Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Host Netherlands caused the first upset of the men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament in Rotterdam by beating Germany. The Dutch led 8-2 already in the first half before the Germans staged a comeback and almost caught up their rivals – but the home side prevailed 11-10. That was exactly the same result in the match between Greece and Georgia where surprise was also on the horizon as the Georgians came back from 4-8 to 10-10 but Ioannis Fountoulis’ 5th goal of the game earned three points for the Greeks. Canada outpowered the Brazilans in the American derby to gain a fine win while Romania was no match for 2017 world champion Croatia. The last game was a 25-goal thriller where the Russians managed to edge out France.

Ioannis Fountoulis was instrumental in Greece's opening win

In the opening game, one of the favourite teams Greece found itself in trouble after a fine first half. They already led by four goals in the second period but Georgia came up with a brilliant run in the third and by the time the final period began it was all even at 10-10. But experience and better stamina was on Greece’s side, plus a brilliant shooter Ioannis Fountoulis, who scored five in the game and his last blast decided the outcome as the only goal netted in the fourth. 

Former Montenegrin leftie Boris Vapenski and his Georgian team-mates offered a fine performance but could not catch the Greeks at the end - Photos: Marcel tel Bals

In the other match of Group A, Canada kept the game under control for most of the time – Brazil had some better spells when they came back from 0-3 to 3-3 in the first period, then from 4-7 to 6-7 in the third but the North Americans were clearly the better side.

George Torakis scored a couple of brilliant goals for Canada

The third match of this group was cancelled since a handful of Turkish players produced positive tests at the compulsory checks upon their arrival and the FINA Management Committee decided to apply the Covid-19 protocol’s related measures, which requires the team’s withdrawal from the competition in this case.

The first game in Group B offered the first upset of the tournament as the Netherlands outplayed the Germans for most of the game – though at the end they barely survived the late surge of their rivals. The hosts staged a sensational first half, shortly before the middle break they led 8-2 when the Germans started awakening but they still trailed 10-6 before the final period. Still, they fought on and by netting three in a row they were back – but the Dutch could score for 11-9 and even though the Germans replied and had 2:51 minutes to save the game at least to a tie, they could not find the way to equalise.

Benchmark performance for the hosts: the Dutch can dream on!

Next came the top favourite side of the tourney Croatia and the 2017 world champions didn't disappoint their fans. They enjoyed an easy cruise against the Romanians as they offered a very balanced performance at both ends of the pool which gave them a very convincing 16-6 win.

Croatia offered the best defensive effort on the opening day

In the last match Russia and France produced an epic clash with a lot of ups and downs for both sides. After 3-3 the Russians jumped to a 3-7 lead but early in the third the French came back for 7-7. From that point it was even more thrilling, the Russians took the lead three times, then the French went up 11-10 for the first time in the entire game but within 20 seconds Russia hit back with a double. One hit apiece followed soon but after the spread of goals the last 3:05 minutes didn't see any more. Thus Russia managed to claim all three points – a good start for them, while France, the surprise qualifier in 2016, will have a live-or-die match against the Germans on Day 2. In this extremely balanced group two losses might easily mean the end of the quest of the Olympic dream.

It was a great offensive show with 64 shots and 25 goals – and the Russians had the last laugh