Water-polo: Japanese boys now look to Olympics

His team had just cruised to a convincing victory in the boys' final of the Asian Youth Water Polo Championships.

But just minutes after his side's 12-3 win over Iran, Japan coach Yuzuru Machida was already looking ahead seven years.

"We have to develop these boys," he said of the Under-17 team, who have been earmarked to lead the nation's water polo charge at the 2020 Olympics.

With the Games to be held in Tokyo, the hosts have set themselves a semi-final target.

And they are on the right track, if their performances at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex are anything to go by.

Led by boys' top scorer Kohei Inaba and his 31 goals, they scored 145 times in their seven outings, while conceding 35.

The only blemish as the competition drew to a close was a 5-11 defeat by China in the girls' final, which prevented the Japanese from completing a double.

It was the second time in the tournament that they fell to their fellow East Asians, after a 3-9 loss in the group stage.

"We expected it to be a close match but I think we did all right," China captain Wang Xue Ying later said.

For their efforts, all four finalists, as well as Kazakhstan - bronze medallists in both the boys' and girls' competitions - have qualified for next year's World Youth Championships.

There was also reason for Singapore's boys to cheer on Monday, as they beat Sri Lanka 17-8 to claim seventh spot in the 10-team tournament.

"We are looking forward to more international exposure and can't wait to play together again," said captain Valampurithavan Thamilarasan, whose side were playing in their first international competition.

With the youth tournament complete, the seniors will now take centre-stage in the Asian Water Polo Cup, which will run from Tuesday until Saturday.

Tickets, priced at $10 for a single session and $40 for all five days of competition, can be bought at the Singapore Swimming Association's office at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex.

fabiusc@sph.com.sg


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