Greece’s water polo team is one of the medal contenders for 2004

Judging by its recent form, the national water polo team stands a chance of winning a medal at the Athens Olympics two years from now. The team ended fifth at the recent World Cup in Belgrade, its second-best performance ever, bettered only by a second place in 1997. Greece may have failed to reach the semifinals in Belgrade, but the side ended its run in the tournament with a 4-3 win against world champions Spain. The final position also handed Greece a berth in next year’s World Championships. Speaking to Kathimerini, coach Takis Michalos – who was recently appointed as a temporary replacement after most of the national team’s players walked out demanding that his predecessor, Koulis Iosifidis, be fired for lack of professionalism – expressed his faith in the side for 2004. «Despite the lack of preparation because of the well-publicized problems, we played well, especially on defense. We did have problems up front. I think we would have done better if we had been better prepared. The players went beyond their limits,» Michalos said. «Our objective is 2004, which is very close – tomorrow, I should say. We’ve got to work to be in optimal form for that. We need to work harder in certain departments, both in and out of the water. We need discipline, both during and outside competition. Fewer words and more work,» the coach added. Michalos also noted that the national team would need to instill maturity into its game, citing traits of the Greek mentality as detrimental to constructive work. «We Greeks are impatient during games. By nature, we’re enthusiastic and get carried away,» said Michalos. His players in Belgrade, the coach added, occasionally neglected set game strategies in favor of more spectacular play which, ultimately, lacked substance. An Olympic medal, Michalos warned, would not be an easy accomplishment, but said his squad is equipped to challenge the sport’s superpowers. «We can challenge the giants. They’re human, not superhuman. The difference is that they’d laid the groundwork long before us. In Greece, we’ve only been working in more organized fashion in recent years, after 1990,» Michalos said. Thodoris Kalakonas, one of the team’s key players, backed his coach’s bright outlook, citing success achieved at national and club level. «I believe we’ll be a medal contender in 2004. We’re a force to be reckoned with. People know that. The differences with other teams are minute, and the balances fine,» Kalakonas said. «We have time ahead of us to work hard and improve. We’ll do our job, no matter which coach the federation decides on.» As for the team’s performance in Belgrade, Kalakonas, like his team’s coach, pointed out that a smoother lead-up would have been beneficial. «It was a test for us,» said Kalakonas. «If we exclude the performance against Croatia, we played well and registered worthwhile results.»