To defend the cup trophy and not to let Dynamo reach the podium

Conclusions to the year with the head coach of Sintez Water Polo Club

To defend the cup trophy and not to let Dynamo reach the podium Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

The preliminary stage of the Russian Water Polo Cup took place in late December in Orgsintez swimming pool. The players of Kazan went through it not without problems but quite decently, which means nobody cancels the task of defending the prestigious trophy that was won last year. After the match, Realnoe Vremya's reporter talked to head coach of Sintez Andrey Belofastov about results of the first part of the season, chances of the team in the fight against the 'monster' Dynamo and 'eternal' top club Spartak, local talented players and their prospects in the national team and many other things.

It became more difficult to compete in Russian water polo

As it was supposed, Dynamo-Moscow that has been a bit forgotten over the years without trophies joined to traditional hegemon of Russian water polo Spartak from Volgograd this season.

Having attracted a good part of players from Volgograd and inviting powerful foreign players, this season Moscow confidently leads the standings of the Russian championship by leaving both Volgograd and Kazan behind. Now it became two times more difficult to fight even for a silver.

In a talk with Realnoe Vremya's reporter, coach of Sintez Andrey Belofastov was not generous with beautiful slogans and promises. He likely evaluated chances of his team considering the new reality of Russian water polo.

I already asked in spring whether Sintez was ready to fight for a gold against Volgograd. It turns out now the question should include Volgograd and Dynamo.

Do you want to say with the richest clubs of Russia? You saw yesterday's march (Editor's Note: the match against Dynamo ended 8-6 in favour of Moscow). We played the first and fourth quarters quite well, but, unfortunately, lost the second and third ones. There were some mistakes and problems with the squad – three injured people and ill. But, in general, I like how we played this game. As for further distribution of positions, it's difficult to forecast something now. You know that, for instance, Rubin can't compete with Barcelona. We don't know now whom we will face in the Cup – there will be a blind draw. We can play against Dynamo again in a semi-final, which is, in fact, the national team of Russia and two Serbian players – who are Olympic champions. But we understand it is sport, and Sintez is ready to fight for the cup. Undoubtedly, it will be necessary to make a small miracle to go ahead of Dynamo, especially in Moscow.

We don't know now whom we will face in the Cup – there will be a blind draw. We can play against Dynamo again in a semi-final, which is, in fact, the national team of Russia and two Serbian players – who are Olympic champions. But we understand it is sport, and Sintez is ready to fight for the cup

What do you think about the first part of the season?

The team is already third. We lost just one unscheduled point in Astrakhan but we should understand we also had injured players – Marzouki and Pliskevich. Nevertheless, it's also early to speak about our position in the standings after the first part of the championship. This hurry isn't needed. We will host Spartak-Volgograd, Astrakhan, Shturm after this break. Everything will be solved in the play-off.

Could you have played better in previous matches of the first part of the championship?

Probably, yes. But we've played a very big number of games, and, of course, it was very difficult to keep in shape for three months. The result we have shown is positive, in general. It is the level we should demonstrate, no more, no less. And we played cool against Dynamo, we did our best.

Will it be more difficult to win the Cup this season than the previous one because Dynamo became stronger?

I want to note that Dynamo was second in the championship last year as well, right in front of Sintez, we miraculously won them in Moscow. They had a starting position in front of us and their field. We needed titanic efforts to reach the final. Everybody foresaw the current situation because Dynamo hit the transfer market this year. The team's ambitions are huge now, and it will be very difficult to fight against them. But nothing is impossible. Our team demonstrated in games against Dynamo we know how to play with them. But we need to improve the quality of our game, of course, especially in the third quarter.

Russian Cup is prestigious

It's difficult to overestimate the value of the Russian Water Polo Cup in comparison with football. Last year's Cup that Sintez won together with a silver in the championship allowed Kazan to certainly print the stamp 'successful season' to the final team's photo. The win in the Cup does the team credit, especially if the things in the championship don't correspond to that scenario. It also provides participation in Eurocups.

The preliminary stage of the Cup is held in the pool of the reigning winner – in this case, it is Orgsintez swimming pool. The Kazan club has never taken a back seat in front of its fans and plays full steam as well.

On the first match day of the preliminary stage, the first team of Sintez trained with its second team (14-8), which, by the way, isn't accidental in this match. Last year's fourth place in the final of the Russian Cup became its best achievement.

Our team demonstrated in games against Dynamo we know how to play with them. But we need to improve the quality of our game, of course, especially in the third quarter

Is a transfer of players from the second team of Sintez to the first one during the season possible? Realnoe Vremya's reporter asked in continuation of the talk.

Possible, of course. We do it. We already gave three players at the preliminary stage to the second team, and they improved the team. And, of course, joint acts enabled the young team to be in the top 8 strong teams last season. As far as you understand, it's very difficult to be in the first team. One needs to have technical skills, anthroponomic characteristics and good physical shape. We keep an eye on it, of course. But many guys need to improve seriously to be in the first team.

Who has improved enough to at least count on promotion?

There are very prospective guys born in 2001 there, you know. They have chances. It's for future. And the guys who are more experienced players at their good level, in general. Now we can't say somebody of them will be at Sintez. We have a roster. We take somebody back. Now we take Khaziakhmetov, Smirnov, Salakhov and Yegorov for camp, so that they will make progress with the first team.

''Thanks to TAIF for new players''

On the second day, the second team of Sintez won the National Olympic Preparation Centre from Minsk that consists of mature Belarus professionals 11-9. And like it was mentioned, the first team lost to Dynamo-Moscow with a small difference – 8-6. In the final matches of the preliminaries of the Cup, the second team of Sintez lost to Dynamo, while the first one walloped the National Olympic Preparation Centre – 16-3. Now Kazan is waiting for draw results of semi-finals where they can play against Shturm, Spartak or Dynamo. Matches of the Cup and championship will take place after the break that the team will fill with a trip to Budapest where it's going to have sparrings with the strongest clubs of Europe.

Does the first team have players who started to play well right this season? Our talk with the coach of Sintez gradually switched to those who would need to defend the trophy in the new year.

I don't want to praise anybody but Pliskevich is playing very cool. Unfortunately, he hadn't been playing for a month because of injury. But now he's playing at maximum capacity, he works 100%. New players also play great. We should understand our team isn't young, middle-aged.

As far as you understand, it's very difficult to be in the first team. One needs to have technical skills, anthroponomic characteristics and good physical shape

Who came?

Everybody who already played for Sintez 3-4 years ago came. Fatakhutdinov, Stepanyuk, Bugaichuk. The skeleton of the team saved, though we lost five players who went to Dynamo, they are Kazan players, which matters.

Does it mean the new guys allowed to save the level of the team after the outflow of performers to Dynamo?

Undoubtedly, it would be difficult to cope with both Volgograd and especially Moscow without these guys. It would be impossible, I'd say. And we should understand we've purchased another two foreigners. Many thanks to TAIF for those foreigners whom we could buy.

Who of our players can be in the Russian national squad?

Odintsov, Giniyatov and Bugaichuk. People say goalkeeper Antonov will also be conscripted who has defended very successfully in this Cup. We'll see.

Could you evaluate the European season?

We decently played 4,5 of the season but didn't reach the Champions League because we got Brescia. We lost to it due to ball difference (one ball). In the European Cup, we got the strongest team – Ferencvárosi with four foreigners. We mainly play with Russian players and two foreigners. So we performed decently, much better than last year. We also won Brescia, though we had been failing to do it for 11 years. We also played against Ferencvárosi decently.

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By Erik Dobrolyubov. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov