Losses are lessons learnt the hard way

TUNIS – The men’s water polo and volleyball teams, two national sides that have satisfied fans with praiseworthy marks in top-level international competition in the past, both failed to live up to expectations at the Mediterranean Games. Though, overall, this was Greece’s most successful performance ever at the event – Greece accumulated 91 medals, 28 gold, 33 silver and 30 bronze – the two teams could only capture seventh and eighth places respectively. Admittedly, both sides were well below full strength with both coaches more interested in testing up-and-coming players ahead of the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Prompted by the same motive, however, their opponents also fielded teams that were well below full strength. With this in mind, the failure of Greece’s water polo and volleyball teams to, at least, make it to the semi-final stages of their respective competitions, can be considered a failure. This was a first-class opportunity for both the players and coaches to acquire experience. If these games didn’t exist, I don’t know when these players would have gotten a game. I think that we’ve more or less completed our trials of new players, said Stelios Prosalikas, coach of the national men’s water polo team. But, he did seem self-contradicting by adding that he would not lead the team again unless it was at full strength. The volleyball team’s defeat against Turkey, Prosalikas said, was a crucial point for the Greek team in the competition. If we had won that match we’d be analyzing its performance between first and fourth places. According to Prosalikas, Tunisia and Italy were the competition’s best teams. Yugoslavia, Spain, Turkey, France and Greece all stood on the same plateau, he said, while the remaining teams were inferior. What makes our placement even worse was that other teams used even fewer of their top nationals. France, for example, fielded some schoolboys from Montpellier, said Prosalikas. The water polo team’s coach, Koulis Iosifidis, who probably felt awkward about leading a side with many of its stars missing, balked at making any comments, and instead let his associate Takis Michalos do the talking. Our performance here was not what it should have been. We knew from the very beginning that we’d have problems because the team came here with plenty of absences, he said. When asked whether it was a mistake by the sport’s federation to field a weaker side, as the end result is what goes down in the history books, Michalos replied: I can’t say it was the wrong decision. As things stood, some of the players who competed in the World Championships needed a rest… In the future, however, we should field full-strength sides no matter what the event is. Michalos noted that the younger players chosen for the national water polo side in Tunis needed to improve their game to reach desired levels. The youngsters still need plenty of work to make it to the senior team. But I can say that, at this particular moment in time, we possess the greatest amount of leeway in the world.

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