France and Italy have topped their groups in both the men’s and women’s competition after the final day of canoe polo qualifiers at The World Games in Birmingham, Alabama.

Defending champions Germany finished second behind France in both the men’s and the women’s pools, as the event heads into quarter-final action on Saturday.

In the men’s competition France could not have been more impressive, beaten two-time World Games champions Germany 3-1 in the morning and then disposing of a dogged New Zealand 3-1 in the afternoon.

French captain David Linet said he expects competition will be tough on the final two days.

“We know that Germany is not the same team during the group stage and the finals, so we have to stay focused,” Linet said.

“It’s been good results for us, but we have to keep concentrating. All teams are better during the final stages. But this has been very good for our confidence, good for our defence, good for our goalkeeper.”

Italy is hoping to farewell star player Luca Bellini with the one gold medal missing from his glittering career. Their quest for a first World Games title is on track, comfortably topping their group with a 4-3 win over Spain and a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Chinese Taipei.

Captain Bellini said he’s proud of the way his team is playing.

“This tournament is really close and really difficult,” Bellini said.

“But we have made a good start and I think the team is travelling well and our dream is a gold medal.”

France finished on top of their women’s group, edging out three-time World Games gold medalists Germany on goal difference. Captain Claire Moal said she is pleased how her team is playing with so many new faces in the squad.

“We thought it would be a tough and close game, but we just focused on our positions and what we had to do, and we made a really good game,” Moal said after beating New Zealand 9-2 in their final pool match.

“We have five rookies in the team for The World Games, and they are playing like they have so much experience, so it’s so much fun to play with them.

“Now it’s another competition, it’s quarter finals, then maybe semis, maybe the final. It’s not the same games.”

The Italian women’s team was equally impressive on their side of the draw, finishing their pool play with a 5-2 win over a Dutch team who was also undefeated heading into the final match.

Captain Roberta Elsa Catania said her team is getting stronger as the competition progresses.

“It was very important for us to finish top of our group so we can play the fourth team in the other group, which should mean an easier match,” Elsa Catania said.

“I’m really happy about what we did as a team, and how we have grown up in our three matches so far. This was the hardest match we have had, but we were really focused and now we are ready to do the other matches now.”

Spain finished second in group B of the men’s competition after an entertaining 6-5 win over Netherlands, while Netherlands had better fortune in the women’s group B to finish second behind Italy.

Saturday will see quarter finals in both men’s and women’s, as well as consolation finals for teams finishing outside the top four.

Pics by Balint Vekassy

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