The Olympic qualifiers will be held in Rotterdam from February 14 to 21, and coach Ivica Tucak has decided on 14 players for their trip to the Netherlands.
“This is the most difficult decision for every coach, including me, considering that all the guys from the initial 22 who were invited to the preparations gave their best. Eighteen of them were invited to Zagreb, four of which had to drop out. They are goalkeeper Marcelić, center Dobud, and outside players Benić and Žuvela. I want to sincerely thank all four of them for the maximum effort they put in, their desire and will. With their presence at every training session and match, they made our preparations even better, and I thank them for that. As a coach, this is a tough decision, but it was made based on the players’ current state. This does not mean that the same 14 players will travel to Tokyo if we qualify, but I think that these 14 are the best that Croatian water polo has at the moment,” said coach Tucak.
The player list includes Marko Bijač, Marko Macan, Loren Fatović, Luka Lončar, Maro Joković, Luka Bukić, Ante Vukičević, Andro Bušlje, Lovre Miloš, Josip Vrlić, Rino Burić, Javier Garcia Gadea, Toni Popadić and reserve Franko Lazić.
The International Federation of Water Sports (FINA) has decided that each team can travel to the tournament with a maximum of 22 people.
“Considering the rhythm that awaits us there, eight games in eight days, extreme effort in physical and psychological terms, I decided to take two physiotherapists and doctors to the tournament. This medical care, along with Professor Kuterovac, who will help regeneration and rest, is critical. For that reason, we leave with 14, not 15 players. Franko Lazić is traveling as a reserve player, who can only join the team if one of the players confirms himself as COVID-positive,” Tucak explained.
In Rotterdam, 12 national teams will be divided into two groups. Croatia is in Group B with Germany, Russia, Romania, the Netherlands, and France, and Group A consists of Greece, Montenegro, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, and Turkey. After five games in the group, the four best teams from each group will play in the quarterfinals.
“Every game is difficult, every game brings its own challenge, and every next one is even harder and even more important than the previous one. What we need to focus on is our performance. I think we have quality, and we are better than any national team in the group, but we have to show that in the pool,” concluded Tucak.
“The quarterfinal match will be difficult in the psychological sense, and then the semifinals. We have no right to make a mistake. We are opening the tournament with Romania, we know their best player Cosmin Radu well, he is mine and Bušlje’s club teammate. I think he will take care of them and will certainly cover them well. We will try to tire him out as much as possible and, of course, hope to win. We expect to qualify for the Olympics. I think that we are the best team and that we will succeed,” said Croatia national team player Luka Bukić.
His teammate Andro Bušlje sees the greatest strength of Croatia in the team.
“We believe in each other and encourage each other when we are doing well, as well as in those difficult times when we are not doing well. We did a lot of physical preparation because an extremely demanding tournament awaits us. As the tournament progresses, we will be more and more tired, but I don’t think there will be any problems, and we will show ourselves in the best light in Rotterdam. We are doing all this and preparing to get that long-desired visa for Tokyo,” said Bušlje.
Croatia travels to Rotterdam on Friday, February 12, and the first match of the tournament will be played on Sunday, February 14 at 7 pm against Romania.
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