Australia's polo boys upbeat about Olympic hopes
Aussies lose to Greece in friendly but remain confident
He has been part of the last two Olympic campaigns and returned empty-handed on both occasions, but Rhys Howden believes that things are a little different this time out.
Australia's water polo team have never won an Olympic medal, but Sharks' skipper Howden believes there is a confidence surging through the camp, a feeling that could see the Aussies make history in Rio de Janeiro this August.
Not even a 6-4 loss to Greece - also Olympic contenders - in a tightly contested friendly encounter at the OCBC Aquatic Centre last night could douse his optimism.
"We've got a good balance this time around. A couple of players left after the London Olympics (in 2012), and we've got a couple of young guys coming in, and people in key positions playing really well," said the 29-year-old utility player.
Australia and Greece were in Singapore for a five-day training camp ahead of the Fina World League Super Finals in Huizhou, China, from Tuesday to Sunday. Both teams leave for China today.
"We're feeling confident that we can win an Olympic medal, definitely," Howden added, asserting that the Sharks have built on their London experience where they finished in seventh spot.
"In matches since then, we've had really, really good chances, and lost to our opponents by a goal or two - and now that we've got Elvis on board, we've got more confidence. I guess he's got us believing that we can."
Croatian Elvis Fatovic was part of the coaching staff as his countrymen struck Olympic gold in 2012 and took the reins of the Sharks the following year.
He was quietly confident that his Aussie charges could pull something off in Rio. This despite the fact that he believes the competition is a lot tighter this time.
"For the first time, I think 10 national teams have a chance (to win Olympic gold). Usually there are one or two weaker teams, usually the hosts, but Brazil are very competitive," said Fatovic, pointing to their appointment of Ratko Rudic, believed to be the greatest coach in the sport, and the recruitment of a couple of top naturalised players, including the likes of Felippe Perrone who turned out for Spain at two Olympics.
Twelve teams will compete for Olympic glory, starting with a two-group round-robin stage.
Fatcovic's counterpart last night, Greece's Theodoros Vlachos, shared similar sentiments.
"I haven't counted, but there are many competitive teams (at the Olympics). Serbia are better than all others, but it will be the small details that separate teams," he said, asserting that Brazil's home advantage will make them dangerous opponents.
Australia will face Greece in both sides' final Group A encounter at the Olympics, but neither coach believes that last night's encounter was any reflection of how things will turn out in Rio, with Fatovic asserting that the World League Super Finals similarly is not be a dress rehearsal for the Olympics.
"It is a tournament that many teams will use as preparation for the Olympics. Some will surely try to hide some things (about their teams) but, at the same time, nobody wants to lose," he said.
Both Greece and Australia faced the Republic's water polo men during their stay here, and there is a feeling that there is much potential in Singapore.
"Singapore has a fantastic facility here and, if the federation (Singapore Swimming Association) and the country continue to make things improve, there will be better results," said Vlachos, who was grateful to the SSA for its hospitality here.
"(Physical) size is not a problem… Japanese players are not very strong, even our guys are not very strong compared to players from Serbia and Croatia, but you can find other ways to play - with cleverness, with speed."