By Natasja Weber
“Getting to the Olympics is more difficult than winning a medal,” repeated national coach Arno Havenga as the qualifying tournament approached. For four major countries (the Netherlands, Hungary, Italy and Greece), only two Olympic tickets were available at the Italian Bruno Bianchi swimming stadium.
During the intense struggle with the Greek women, Havenga’s words must have crossed her mind more than once. In the first three periods, Greece had a predominance, but eventually things were going well for the Netherlands.
It was mainly thanks to strong goalkeeper Debby Willemsz that the Orange side took a 5-4 lead after three eight-minute periods. The keeper who retired in the spring of 2019 and returned six months later was the tall woman on the Dutch side. Willemsz trained his team with fabulous rescues. In the final period, the Havenga team distanced themselves from Greece with goals from Maud Megens and Simone van de Kraats; 7-4.
These countries go to Tokyo
Besides the Netherlands, the United States, Spain, Canada, Australia, Russia, South Africa, China and Japan have also qualified for Tokyo. The last ticket comes tonight from the other OKT semi-final in Trieste between Italy and Hungary.
Seconds from the clock, Havenga and her team were already partying on the couch. At the final whistle, the players jumped into the water and shouted “Tokyo, Tokyo!”. Finally, they managed to close an Olympic qualifying tournament with a coveted Olympic ticket. Not tears of pain, but tears of joy. “I can’t believe it,” replied Maud Megens in front of the Ziggo Sport camera. We’re having a big party tonight. We really played with conviction and we trusted each other, ”said euphoric Megens.
Havenga: “ Get rid of stalkers ”
Twice it went wrong for the Dutch water polosters at the decisive moment, but on Saturday night in Trieste the Orange managed to qualify for the Olympics. National coach Arno Havenga sees this as confirmation of his team’s status. “We’ve always been told: you win tournaments, you’re in the final, but you never know how to qualify for the Games. Yes, it went wrong twice. But now we’re getting rid of all that nagging, ”says Havenga.
Rotterdammer, 46, was a team manager when the water polosters won Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 under Robin van Galen. As an assistant to national coach Mauro Maugeri, he experienced the debacle during the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament in Trieste. Four years later, Havenga himself was the national coach when the Orange, as number 2 in the World Cup and European Championship, in Gouda then nabbed a ticket to Rio 2016.
“But I always had the hope and confidence that we would be successful now. It’s a crown on the work of the past few years, ”says Havenga. “I’ve been with this team for about 15 years now so it’s also great for me. It is the confirmation that we are structurally among the best in the world. We only have one thing left: to get on the podium at the Games. “