The men's water polo team qualified for the round of 16 of the World Championships, despite its narrow defeat (13-12) against Greece, the reigning Olympic vice-champion, on Friday in Doha.
The Blues finished second in their group and will face the Australians on Sunday, whom they beat at the same stage of the competition last year at the Fukuoka Worlds.
After two victories against opponents within their reach (Brazil then China), Florian Bruzzo's players faced a big challenge for their third and final group match.
The Blues were on par with the Greeks for a long time, also vice-world champions last year, but ended up losing to a penalty at the end of the match (3-3, 4-3, 3-2, 3 -4).
“It was our big match in the group, so it’s a shame, knowing that it only ended with one goal,” complained goalkeeper Hugo Fontani, who finished the match with 38% saves. “We still move on to the eighth so that’s positive, but I think there was room to be first in the group for the first time in our history. It’s a bit annoying.”
Sixth in the Worlds last year, the best result in their history, the French have experienced real progress for around two years, which bodes well less than six months before the Olympic Games at home.
“We were really able to put ourselves at the level of a top team in the world and I think we competed with them until the end, so that’s positive. But we are still frustrated,” continued Fontani.
“We are getting closer (to the best teams),” added captain Ugo Crousillat. “We still haven't managed to get over the hump, that is to say win. There, it really came down to mini details at the end, but which make the difference between the world leaders and us.
During the first round, France relied in particular on its major player, Thomas Vernoux, who finished the group stage with 15 goals. In this last match, he left the title of top scorer to his cousin Romain Marion-Vernoux, author of four goals.