Canadian men pull out important win over Brazil to open water polo Olympic qualifier
5 players score twice ahead of tough Monday matchup vs. Montenegro in Rotterdam
In a match many considered a must-win for Canada, five men scored twice in a tournament-opening 11-7 victory over Brazil on Sunday at the FINA water polo Olympic qualifier in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
"We played well as a team today," Gardijan told Water Polo Canada. "Our defence limited [Brazil's] chances and we were able to stay focused throughout the game."
Three of the 12 teams will secure a spot at the Tokyo Games this summer, joining Australia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Serbia, South Africa, Spain and United States.
Canada, ranked 13th in the world, is also facing No. 6 Montenegro, No. 8 Greece, Georgia and Turkey in group play at the week-long event. Greece and Montenegro, in no particular order, are expected to secure the top two spots in Group A, with two other teams also advancing to the crossover quarter-finals on Feb. 19.
WATCH | Canada strikes early, often to begin Olympic qualifier:
"There's a monumental difference between placing third or fourth in the group," CBC Sports analyst George Gross Jr. said earlier this week. "The fourth-place finisher will cross over to play [likely Group B winner] Croatia [ranked No. 2] and it's goodbye Charlie, but the team finishing third is going to draw a [favourable opponent].
- Monday vs. Montenegro, 11:30 a.m.
- Feb. 16 vs. Georgia, 10 a.m.
- Feb. 17 vs. Turkey, 2:30 p.m.
- Feb. 18 vs. Greece, 8:30 a.m.
- Feb. 19 — Quarter-finals
- Feb. 20 — Semifinals
- Feb. 21 — Finals
Canada faces Montenegro on Monday at 11:30 a.m. ET.
"It will be a tough match [but] we tied them at worlds in 2017, so anything is possible," Gardijan said.
Pair of blown leads
Greece edged Georgia 11-10 in other Group A action on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Canadians jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter at Zwemcentrum Rotterdam, only to watch the Brazilians battle back to even matters before Côté notched the go-ahead goal with two seconds on the clock.
Constantin-Bicari is likely to be the offensive force for a young outfit featuring many players making their Olympic qualification debut while Côté, a six-foot-two attacker from Montreal, is a standout offensive player with University of the Pacific Tigers in Stockton, Calif.
Brazil pulled even again early in the second quarter but Gardijan restored Canada's lead before halftime with a gem of a shot with a man up.
Canada's Aleksa Gardijan with a perfectly placed floater to seal the deal for Canada<br><br>They open their Olympic qualifying tournament with an 11-7 win over Brazil 🇨🇦 <a href="https://twitter.com/waterpolocanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@waterpolocanada</a> <a href="https://t.co/tb2OIX7pYf">pic.twitter.com/tb2OIX7pYf</a>—@CBCOlympics
Canada extended its lead to 7-4 early in the third as Constantin-Bicari recorded his second of the game on a rebound off goalkeeper Slobodan Soro, then Côté added his second.
- Milan Radenovic, Toronto
- Gaelan Patterson, North Vancouver, B.C.
- Bogdan Djerkovic, Ottawa
- Nicolas Constantin-Bicari, Repentigny, Que.
- Mark Spooner, Port Coquitlam, B.C.
- George Torakis, Montreal
- Jérémie Côté, Pointe-Claire, Que.
- Sean Spooner, Port Coquitlam, B.C.
- Aleksa Gardijan, Gatineau, Que.
- Aria Soleimanipak, Calgary
- Max Schapowal, Beaconsfield, Que.
- Reuel D'Souza, Port Coquitlam, B.C.
- Samuel Reiher, Longueuil, Que.