Superpowers in early water polo showdown
Updated: Wednesday, 04 Jul 2012 16:04
Confident Serbia expect to dent Hungary's bid for a fourth straight Olympic water polo title when the sport's superpowers meet on the first day of men's competition in London.
Serbia, the European champions, are chasing the only major honour to elude them since the republic's establishment in 2006, while their mighty Hungarian neighbours already have nine Olympic golds.
The two countries are supreme in world water polo with a combined six world championships and 12 Olympic gold medals between them, including Serbia's three Olympic titles won as the former Yugoslavia.
Their record makes for a spicy first day of competition in London when they get to grips in their opening round-robin game.
"This generation has won gold at the European and world championships, and is only missing a triumph at the Olympics," Serb star Slobodan Nikic said.
"I think we deserve to win the gold and have shown we are the best in the world right now, even though we lost (8-7) to the Italians in Shanghai."
Hungary, who downed USA 14-10 in the Beijing final, have extraordinary success at the Olympics and have missed out on a medal only five times.
Under national team coach Dejan Udovicic since 2006, Serbia have won two golds at the European championships (Belgrade 2006 and Eindhoven 2012), one silver (Malaga 2008) and one bronze (Zagreb 2010).
The Serbs also won the world championship in Rome in 2009 and were silver medallists in Shanghai last year.
As well as Yugoslavia's three Olympic titles in 1968, 1984 and 1988, Serbia also claimed a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Reigning world champions Italy are separated from Hungary and Serbia in Group A and the "Settebello" will have to contend with Spain and Croatia to get through to the medal rounds.
With two groups of six making up the draw, the four highest-ranked teams in each group will qualify for the quarter-finals.
In the women's competition, Italy downed world champions Greece to win their fifth European title in Eindhoven in January, and they are in strong contention for the gold medal.
Italy, who won the women's tournament at Athens 2004, will face stiff competition from 2000 winners Australia, Hungary and three-time Olympic medallists the United States.
"I think this Australian team is a lot stronger than the one in 2008 as we have a lot more outside shooters," said Bronwen Knox, a member of Australia's bronze medal-winning team in Beijing.
"That's only going to help us even more when it comes to the crunch in London."