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Olympics guide: Water Polo

Waterpolo.jpg

Here's a true fact. Sixteen horses drowned in the Ukraine in 1942 because nobody told them water polo doesn't involve horses*. Avoid embarrassing mishaps like that by reading this:

(*lies)

Athletes: 260

Gold up for grabs: 2

Olympic Presence: Men since 1900; women since 2000.

Olympic Format: Both men and women’s teams play in preliminary groups and the top eight progress to the quarter-finals.

Current Contenders: In the men’s tournament the established nations are Italy, Hungary, Russia, Serbia and Croatia – though the USA are contenders too. In the women’s tournament, Australia and the Netherlands will field strong teams, as will the Americans and Italians.

Past Champions: Hungary: 9 | Italy: 4 | Great Britain: 4

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THE BASICS

Water polo is a game of attack, defence and transition. When a team has the ball it moves it by dribbling, passing and hopefully shooting on goal. When a team loses possession, it blocks, tackles and tries to snatch the ball back. Whenever it changes hands there is an almighty sprint by both sides from one end of the pool to the other. The pool must be at least two metres deep and players are not allowed to touch the bottom, which means that they must constantly tread water, including during stoppages.

(Pictured: Olympics water polo set up)

There are a lot of these in most games, which despite being scheduled for just 28 minutes of play can last over an hour. The main no-nos are taking the ball underwater, tackling a player without the ball and using two hands to hold the ball (unless you are a goalkeeper). When a foul is called against a team it concedes possession to the opposition. If it commits a foul inside its own 5-metre line, the opponents get a penalty throw on goal. Dangerous, violent and unsportsmanlike play, of whichthere is plenty, results in an exclusion foul being called and a 20-second penalty imposed on the guilty party.

Examples include splashing water in an opponent’s face, and holding or sinking them. Brutal play, such as kicking or punching with malicious intent, leads to permanent exclusion, with substitution only allowed after four minutes.

(Images: Rex Features)

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