Water polo (M) day 2 - Nine-time Olympic champions lose second game in a row

London 2012 Water Polo

Hungary, a 9 time Olympic champion in men's water polo was beaten for the second time this week at the Olympic water polo competition. In today's Group B match Montenegro came out on top 11-10. On Sunday, the team from Serbia upset Hungary by an even wider margin, 14-10. The Hungarian team owns three consecutive gold medals from Olympic composition starting with the Sydney Games in 2000. The last time the Hungarians lost two consecutive games was in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when they were on the losing end of a semi-final and bronze medal encounters. It is not often that head coach Denes Kemeny (HUN) throws his hands over his face, but as the final seconds of the game ticked away, his dream of a fourth Olympic title in London may have been in doubt.

On the brighter side, Hungary scored 20 goals in their two losses, itself an amazing statistic in international water polo. The team from Montenegro was never behind and broke free of Hungary midway through the second quarter and able to post a 6-5 lead at halftime. Early in the third quarter the margin grew to three goals, but twice the Hungarians struck back to bring the difference to only one, 9-8 at the end of the third period. Goals were traded in the final quarter but Denes Varga's (HUN) last three shots were all thwarted by goalkeeper Milos Scepanovic (MNE). Montenegro was able to maintain its one goal advantage, finishing 11-10. Looking back, Hungary's ability to score on extra-man opportunities could have been the team's salvation especially inside the final minute of the game. The Hungarian team finished with an impressive seven goals from 10 attempts throughout the game. Montenegro scored only four times from 10 extra-man attempts, but their action shots helped them win the game. Montenegro has now beaten Hungary a total of four times in 2012, most noteworthy was their extra time win in the European Championships semi-final game.

Hungarian coach Denes Kemeny offered these comments: "Despite the loss, I have to say it was a much better performance compared to the match with the Serbs. We scored 10 goals, a feat few teams can achieve against Montenegro. But we committed too many mistakes at the back and presented them with unnecessary exclusions which they converted at crucial moments." The Hungarian coach continued: "Today we had a very balanced play, only a few small things are missing to get the right picture. It's probably our level of concentration. It's disturbing. I think we could have won this easily."

Hungarian player Tamas Kasas said: "I have seen many positive things today. We have lost against two of the best teams, but step by step we will get better. It's like Heaven and Earth, but we are still under water. Today we gave our hearts and soul, so we can build on this performance."

Ranko Perovic, Montenegro's head coach offered his respect for the Hungarian team. "They are a very experienced team of gold medallists from the last three Olympic Games. I wouldn't write them off after their second defeat. We are breathing easier now. We have had more desire and we are playing as we did throughout the summer. This is our second face and it shows that all teams will have problems with us."

Montenegro player Milos Scepanovic spoke for his team. "I'm very happy today, our first game we lost to the USA and we played very badly in a stressful situation. The last game wasn't good, the whole team played badly, but today was the total opposite. This was a champion game for us. It was very important to win our first game and this performance is the recipe for our next matches. I don't want to say too much but for now the door is open and we're ready."


Pandemonium as disallowed goal denies Spain the opportunity to draw with Croatia 

A disallowed goal in the final seconds of the game gave Croatia a controversial 8-7 victory over Spain in their Group A match. Ivan Perez (ESP) took a left handed backhand shot from outside five metres and the ball made its way into the bottom right of the goal. It was declared a goal by the goal line judge but was overruled by Slovenian referee Boris Margeta. The pool immediately erupted into a fracas as Spanish players, head coach Rafael Aguilar (ESP) and team officials approached the referee and FINA delegates pleading for the goal to be allowed.  

Croatian head coach Ratko Rudic, who sat out Spain's first game victory over Kazakhstan, joined in the debate. A television replay showed the ball seemingly crossing the line, but it was decided that the referee's decision was final, leaving Spain the choice to protest. The disputed goal came with two seconds remaining on the clock.  

Croatia had a 2-1 quarter time advantage and extended their margin to 5-3 at half time. Five-time Olympian Igor Hinic (CRO) scored his first goal of the Olympic tournament on extra man attack. Hinic is looking to add to his impressive medal collection of six major titles including a silver medal from the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Croatia led the game 6-3 and then 7-4 in the third period before Albert Espanol (ESP) changed the dynamic, delivering three goals over and above his opener early in the game. Espanol's third for 7-6 behind came off a rebound of his penalty shot attempt. Felipe Perrone (ESP) delivered the 7-7 equalizer, just 10 seconds from the final break.

The final quarter was frantic. Sandro Sukno (CRO), the son of Olympic water polo champion Goran Sukno (CRO) converted a penalty shot for his second of the match with 1:07 remaining. Then came a long pass to Perez who secured a foul outside five meters followed by his controversial shot that resulted in pandemonium after the goal was disallowed.

Spanish head coach Rafael Aquilar: "The goal line official's job here is to watch the goal line and to make a decision. That is his only job here. He decided that it is a goal but he has not been consulted. The most important tournament in the world is the Olympic Games and I don't understand why they're not using TV." Felipe Perrone (ESP) was certain what he saw: "It is difficult to get back into the pool after this. Five thousand people have seen the goal, only one referee didn't."

Spain made an official protest following the game but the decision of the referee was confirmed.


Australia gets the better of Kazakhstan

Australia notched their first Group A victory beating Kazakhstan 7-4 in today's match. The win partly makes up for their 8-5 defeat against world champions Italy on Sunday. Today's win was the third time in four outings this year that Australia have beaten Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan provided stiff opposition, but they were always trailing Australia. The team from down under went two up early in the first quarter. Scores at the end of first, second and third periods were 2-1, 4-1, and 6-3.  Rhys Howden (AUS) scored twice as Australia soaked up the pressure and locked in their victory.  

Australia converted only three of their extra man chances and they will be looking to improve their overall percentage after missing 9 chances. Kazakhstan converted three from 13 man-up situations. Murat Shakenov (KAZ) scored on a glorious counter attack against goalkeeper Joel Dennerley (AUS). Dennerley made several excellent saves during the game. It was Kazakhstan's second loss, having fallen to Spain 14-6 in their first match on Sunday.

Kazakhstan head coach Sergey Drozdov (KAZ) took stock in the lessons he learned from today's game. "We must change for the next game, make the most of our man-up situations and be more forceful on the attack. We will look at the videos and work on it. The players tried very hard and of course they wanted to win. We made a few mistakes when defending and that cost us." Asked about his team's chances of progressing, Yevgeniy Zhilyayev (KAZ) stated: "They are getting less and less. I think we can aim for eighth place overall, we would be happy."

Australian head coach John Fox said: "Defensively it was much better. Obviously I was a lot happier as we had only conceded one goal at half-time. At the beginning of the third quarter we had a lapse and let in two easy ones, but the rest of the game was pretty good. Attack-wise we still have to pick up our game as our conversions are not right at the moment. Today's game was harder than a lot of people probably anticipated. Kazakhstan has a bad game against Spain but they are up to the task now. Basically this was their survival game,"

Australian player Rhys Howden on the match: "We got off to a good start and we were always on top of them. After the half, they scored two quick goals (against us) but we just had to focus and stick to the defence.  


Greece snatch draw with world champion Italy

Italy, the reigning world champions, were held to a 7-7 draw in their Group A match against Greece today. Greece took the lead four times compared to Italy's three. Two goals were delivered late in the third period by Alex Giorgetti (ITA) put the Italians 6-5 at the end of the quarter.

Ioannis Fountoulis (GRE) and Maurizio Felugo (ITA) traded goals early in the final quarter before Christos Afroudakis (GRE) converted an extra-man advantage attack after a time-out to make it 7-7 with two minutes and 54 seconds left. The three remaining time outs were taken, but tactics hatched in those one minute breaks failed to produce a winning strategy for either team.

Greece captain Georgios Afroudakis, the older brother of Christos, hit the post with his trademark fade-away, centre-forward turn as it neared the final minute. Italy failed a goal attempt after a time out in the last 22 seconds. Greece needed to convert more than on of their 11 changes on extra-man attack while Italy made five from 12. Italy arrived at the match with an 8-5 win over Australia in the opening round of the tournament. Greece had lost to Croatia 8-6 on day one of the Olympic competition. 

Greece, under the coaching of Serbian Dragan Andric, were previously coached by Alessandro Campagna, now in charge of Italy. Assisting Campagna were Francesco Attolico and Amadeo Pomlio. The trio were Olympic champions for Italy at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. The two assistant coaches went on to claim bronze medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Allesandro Campagna, head coach of Italy offered that "it was an interesting match in that it was balanced and the result is correct. Neither team managed to lead by two goals. We played well enough to earn this draw." Player Piertro Figlioli (ITA) said: "We played well in defence and yet there was not big difference between the teams. There are no easy games in Olympic competition. We drew with them in a tournament in Italy recently. Both teams definitely studied each other."

From the Greek team, head coach Dragan Andric was pleased with the outcome. "It was a good result. They are world champions and we missed two world championships. It is important that we played well for the whole match, not just for three quarters like we did against Croatia in the first game. We have to play fantastic defence. Greek player Georgios Afroudakis expressed that today's game "was a very good result as we played a very good match. A draw today is a great result for us against Italy. Both teams deserved to win. Our next game against Kazakhstan is one that we must play to win. We are a much better team than Kazakhstan so we expect to win."


Serbia overcomes slow start to beat plucky Great Britain

FINA World Cup champions Serbia took some time to surge past Great Britain 21-7 in a Group B match. Under the watchful eye of water polo enthusiast Price William, the Duke of Cambridge, sitting among the crowd in the main spectator stand, Great Britain seemed inspired by the occasion and the chance to play one of the leading teams in the world.  

The script called for Serbia to steamroll the British, but the score sheet showed a different story with the match tied at 3-3 after the first quarter. Rob Parker (GBR) rifled in a shot for a 4-3 Great Britain lead against an accomplished team that has appeared in the final of the last six major world tournaments, winning five of them.

Serbia's experience shone through as they went on to score an additional 18 goals and conceding only three more from the Brits. Ciaran James (GBR) scored two of them and one was notched by captain Craig Figes (GBR). Serbia's Andrija Prlainovic was the team's top scorer with five goals. The most valuable player from the 2011 FINA World Championships, Filip Filipovic (SRB) netted four goals. Serbian captain Vanja Udovicic (SRB) and Stefan Mitrovic (SRB) scored three goals each. The key statistic of the game was Serbia's superiority with 37 shorts to 23 for Great Britain.

Filip Filipovic (SRB) said: "We realised after the UK scored five goals that we needed to step it up. We respect Great Britain but we didn't allow this against Hungary in the previous match." Asked about being down 4-5 in the second quarter Serbian team captain Vanja Udovicic acknowledged: "It was our mistake; it is very difficult to enter in a new game, especially against Great Britain, as they are not first-class in the group. We played very well in the second half, it was our game in second half."

British head coach Cristian Iordache reported: "The first two quarters were really good against the European champions. Unfortunately we don't have that much experience, but with more time we will be able to offer much better performances. The Serbian players are older and stronger. In the second half they controlled the game. We learn from every game. The boys try hard, day by day, to improve their level." UK player Ciaran James spoke about injuring his nose during the match. "It was the very first attack where I put my head underwater and learned that you just can't do that. You just get hit and I did. We came out strong but we made silly mistakes in defence. We lost our concentration. They have some big guys and it showed. The support we have is amazing and this was the best game I've played in. I can't praise the fan support enough."


Red cards mar USA victory over Romania

The USA backed up a first day win over Montenegro to defeat Romania 10-8 in Group B play but the result was marred by two red cards for misconduct, one issued to each team in the final minutes of the game.

Romania set the pace early on in this one, scoring the first goal of the match less than 90 seconds in to grab a 1-0 advantage. Two minutes later the United States had an answer with a goal from Layne Beaubien (USA) off a restart for a 1-1 game. Romania responded with a score right as a power play concluded to go back in front, 2-1. At the 1:50 mark in the first period Varellas scored his first of the day, a near side delivery to beat the keeper and tie the match at 2-2. Romania came back with a power play goal less than a minute later, only to see John Mann (USA) cash in a power play score of his own for a 3-3 match after one.

In the second, Romania surged ahead with consecutive scores to go in front 5-3 with 2:11 remaining in the period. USA drew a six on four advantage on their next possession and Adam Wright (USA) bounced home a shot from in close for a 5-4 score at the half. The third quarter belonged to the USA as they outscored Romania 3-0 to grab a 7-5 lead. Bailey started things off with a redirect from two meters and followed that up with a power play try from in close for a 6-5 lead. Varellas closed things out with a power play strike with a little over a minute to play to build the two score advantage headed to the fourth.

The match was far from over as Cosmin Radu (ROU) scored first in the period to close within 7-6. The USA started to rebuild the advantage with a deep shot from Wright and a final tally from Varellas to take a 9-6 lead with 2:09 remaining. Romania came back with another power play score, this time at the 1:14 mark to get back within two at 9-7. Bailey put the match away as he followed his own miss for a rebound score with just :50 remaining in the match giving the United States a 10-7 lead. Moments later USA team captain Tony Azevedo (USA) was given a game misconduct, leading to a power play for Romania. 

Alexandru Ghiban (ROU) converted the extra man play but with just three seconds left it did not factor in the decision and the USA took the match 10-8. USA went 7 for 13 on power plays while Romania was 5 for 13. Neither team attempted a penalty shot. The last time these two teams met in a major championship was the 2010 FINA World Cup, a 14-12 victory by the USA. 

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credit: Giorgio Scala

Romanian head coach Istvan Kovacs denied the team's lack of energy: "I don't think we ran out of anything, we just didn't take our opportunities. We had a man up at 5-5, we set it up nicely but missed the shot. As we fought on we fell back by two and then three goals and again we had further extra man opportunities but we couldn't convert them. The USA scored from their attempts and that made the difference." Romanian player Kalman Kadar (ROU) said: "Yes, we had our chances, but in the third period we had a lot of chances. The US is full of good defenders and our defence wasn't as good. In the end, we didn't have the power to come back into the game and even when we did, it was too late." 

Terry Schroeder (USA) head coach admitted: "Yes, we struggled for so long. Two nights ago we had an emotional win against Montenegro and it took us half of the game to settle down tonight and to get into the rhythm. Merril Moses (USA goalkeeper) had a great game. He is very talkative and emotional, he has made some mistakes, but I gave him a chance tonight and he took it very well."

Adam Wright (USA) revealed his concerns about being one goal down at half-time: "It was a big game. We were playing nervous, playing scared, you could tell by the look on our faces. If we're going to do well in this competition, we can't have a game like tonight. We didn't follow the game plan. They took advantage in the first half, but we brought it back to get the win." Ryan Bailey (USA) offered: "We were trying to shut them down from the beginning. We had a slow start, but we had a better defence in the second half. That was the difference. We are on track. Two wins are as good as it can get."