Water polo (M) day 3 - Champions Hungary win first match in goal fest

London 2012 Water Polo

altIt took three matches for Hungary to kick into gear in their Olympic gold medal defence, beating Romania 17-15 in a men's Group B match today. Norbert Madaras (HUN) turned up with two goals in two matches but delivered seven after a final display with his left arm. Winless after the first two days of competition, Hungary has to use all their skills to fend off a Romanian team fighting for its Olympic survival.

Romania levelled at 1's, 3's, 6's, 7's, 8's and again at 9's leading up to half time. The second half was tougher with Romania coming back to 11-10, but them watching as the goal fest reached 14-11 after three periods. Romania scored consecutive goals to narrow the match to 15-13 after a Hungarian spurt, but it went 17-13 in Hungary's favour in the last three minutes. Romania scored the last two goals. They must have been surprised to have scored 15 goals against Hungary but to still have lost the game.

Hungary played better as a team up front, but needs to work harder on defence if they wish to have any chance of qualifying fourth and taking on the top team in the other group during the quarterfinals. Andrei Busila (HUN) and Alexandru Ghiban (HUN) scored three goals each for Romania.  

One of the best goals of the tournament came from Marton Szivos (HUN) on counter to take Hungary to a 9-8 lead. Aiming to become the first person in any Olympic sport to join his father and grandfather as gold medallists, Szivos saw the ball drop short, so he turned, kicked it high with his foot and then dragged the ball backwards into the bottom left of the goal. "It was lucky, it's not something I practice, but I am happy with any way the ball goes in the goal," said the Magyar player. Hungary netted seven from 13 on extra-man plays while Romania scored six from 14 chances.

Romanian head coach Istvan Kovacs was proud of his team's scoring output: "I'm extremely happy with our performance as we came up with it against a fantastic team. Scoring 15 goals against Hungary that's too many. Of course, conceding 17 is also way too many. All in all, it was great entertainment, a show. We applied different tactics since we were defeated several times in a series of warm up matches, often by 10 goals on each occasion. We tried to force the Hungarians into a position game, pressing them hard and it worked for at least two periods. The Hungarians are better players capable of scoring in the crucial moment. We have the seven or eight classy players but when I have to send them to the bench, we could not produce the same quality."

Four Romanian players offered their thoughts - Andrei Busila (ROU): "This match was very important for our chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals. It will be very difficult to beat Montenegro in our next match, and then Serbia two days later." Tiberlu Negrean (ROU): "Of course we had our chances, but they are Olympic champs three times and have more experience than us. We played three very good games and I think we can spring a surprise and beat one of them." Kalman Kadar (ROU): "Yes we wanted to win. It was a very, very hard match and very close. They are Olympic champions and we did everything today. We have to win in our next games. It's our last chance and we have to do our best." Cosmin Radu (ROU): "We played at our maximum but we came up against a good team who were set not to make any mistakes."

Hungarian coach Denes Kemeny (HUN) commenting on his team's first win: "I think it could have been much easier, but for several reasons we were unable to build a substantial lead in the early stages. A deflected shot found the net and that started to cause some turmoil at the back. Our attacking play was overwhelming and I cannot say anything bad about that part, but we committed a handful of mistakes. After a while we terrorized ourselves psychologically and we couldn't keep order in front of our goal."  

Hungarian player Tamas Kasas (HUN) spoke about the importance of today's match: "It was very important, it was a very big match for us. Now we have to perform well, but we don't have extra motivation from this win. We need to fix our defence, it was horrible. We can't win the competition with 15 goals for the opposition. Now we have to play to win, we can't have a weak defence." His Hungarian teammate Marton Szivos said: "As soon as we enter the pool it feels like Hungary (due to the fan support) which is really helpful to the team. It was really important to win today. It was a decisive game for us to get out of the group."


Spain rebounds from controversy to defeat Australia

Spain made amends for a controversial loss to Croatia on Tuesday by beating Australia 12-9 in a men's Group A match at the Water Polo Arena on Thursday. It was the second win for Spain, a team with aspirations of Olympic medals foremost in their minds. They are still smarting from having what would have been a tying goal against Croatia disallowed. That decision has affected their position in the group phase on the way to the quarterfinals.

Ten different Spanish players scored the first 10 goals as their team led at the quarter-time breaks, 2-1, 5-4 and 9-5. The third period was the critical one where Spain when out to four goals ahead whereas Australia was kept scoreless for nearly eight minutes.

The margin went to five when Felipe Perrone (ESP), one of the stars of the tournament, took his total to eight goals in three matches when he scored on a counter attack to make it 11- 6 with five and a half minutes remaining. It was a margin from which Australia could not recover.

One of the highlights for Australia was the form of Billy Miller (AUS) who scored all four of his goals in the first half. He also scored a fifth goal just one second from full time. The Australian team has one win and two defeats through three days of group play. In order to advance to the quarter finals they must collect a victory over Greece or Croatia. Their conversion rate in extra-man attacks was five from 12 while Spain scored four times in 10 attempts.

Australian coach John Fox revealed: "Our defence was much better in the first round games against Italy and Kazakhstan. Today it was shocking. Unfortunately we are not very consistent at the moment. We have some very good areas in the game, but we have others that are letting us down. We worked hard for the equalizers, really hard, then we let two soft ones in. We also spoke about how to stop their counter attacks, but we didn't do it and that was also decisive. We have two more games and we are still in the hunt for the quarterfinals. We are looking to the games against Croatia and Greece and we have to make some adjustments."

Australian goalkeeper Joel Dennerly offered: "I would have liked to have done better. There were a few goals scored that I could have saved. They had a very good counter attack, it's something we need to be aware of. I guess we just need to change things up. Spain got three quick goals at the start of the third quarter. It was good for James Clark (AUS) to step up and he showed that for the rest of the game." Australian teammate Gavin Woods (AUS) said: "I was disappointed as I wanted to win. We found it a bit hard to come back from the third quarter. Our game against Croatia is going to be a hard physical contest, but I will stay positive."

Spanish head coach Rafael Aguilar spoke about the controversy from their July 31st game against Croatia: "The players are intelligent, they've erased the last match and turned over a new page. All of my players had opportunities to score a goal. We played a really good game and we try to play with spirit." Three Spanish players offered their own perspective following today's match: Ivan Perez (ESP) - "We've recovered well. It's all in the past and now is the present. It was very difficult and very hard. Australia is physically very strong, they are a good team." Goalkeeper Inaki Aguilar (ESP): "The win wasn't the result of my individual work, but because of good team work. I was good because the team was good. We had 10 different scorers which reflects the Spanish way to spread the work among team members. This is very important to us." Guillermo Molina (ESP): "We are thinking about the next match and we want to be in the quarterfinal. I want to think that the other teams in the other group are worried about playing us. We need to build up some energy, so tomorrow we can start to prepare for the match against Greece."


Greece keeps finals hopes alive with big win over Kazakhstan

Greece scored their first win from three outings with an 11-4 victory over Kazakhstan in a Group A match. Ioannis Fountoulis (GRE) was the top scorer with five goals from seven shorts. Two of his goals were from the penalty line. He is the tournament's leading scorer with nine goals.  

Fountoulis scored twice in the opening quarter and added a third in the second as Greece moved from 2-1 at the quarter to 6-1 at half time. Greece captain Georgios Afroudakis scored twice from the centre forward position in the second period, once on an extra-man advantage and the second when smothered by three players. He added a third in the third period. Fountoulis scored the penalty goals on either side of the final break.

Kazakhstan worked hard and had goalkeeper Nikolay Maximov (KAZ) to thank for some crucial saves. However the Kazakhstan team not being able to score for long periods was a testament to Greece's superior defence. Rustam Ukumanov (KAZ) brought the crowd to life with by landing two goals in the last three minutes to narrow the margin of differential.  

Greece dominated the extra-man play, scoring five from seven attempts. Kazakhstan scored on only one of three extra-man opportunities. It was Greece's first win after an opening day loss to Croatia (8-6) and a draw with Italy. The team from Kazakhstan has yet to score a point in the Group A standings following their losses to Spain (6-14) and Australia (4-7) earlier in the week.

Sergey Drozdov, head coach of Kazakhstan expressed his disappointment and concern about play by his athletes: "Today we played our worst match so far. We played badly in attack, badly in defence and committed all the mistakes we wanted to avoid. On top of that, Greece played very well. I don't know the reasons for it, but our best players were way under their usual level. We will try to get back to a better level, to change some elements in our game. We have two more matches, first against Italy and then against Croatia. They are very strong teams but we will go on. We don't consider this Olympic Games finished."

Yevgeniy Zhilyayev (KAZ) of the Kazakhstan team spoke about today's game and their next game: "In our attack we were much worse than the other team. However it was a nice feeling to have the crowd on our side, but it didn't change the score. We have a day and a half to prepare for our next game." His teammate Rustam Ukumanov (KAZ): "We played really badly and our defence wasn't very good. Of course I am disappointed. It's always a good feeling to score, but those goals didn't decide anything."

Greek head coach Dragan Andric (SRB) explained: "It was important for us to stay focused and to use this match as an opportunity to practice our defence and not to concede easy goals. Based on our play we should be in the quarterfinals." Asked to discuss their match with Spain on Saturday the Greek coach offered: "They (Spain) have huge motivation and are excellent on the counter attack. We have to be careful not to chase them up and down the pool. We know each other well as we have had joint training sessions, but it's not going to be easy."

Greek players Ioannis Fountoulis on today's match: "It was an important match for us to win, we are in a good position. We did well from the beginning, we want to win. We expected the game to be like this if we concentrated. In the last game (7-7 tie with Italy) we didn't have the same motivation as we did today. They are a very tough team with very good results, but I think we are at the same level as them." His teammate Georgios Afroudakis (GRE) contributes: "Nothing is easy if you don't play well. We focused from the beginning and after the second half we controlled the game and finally we took our first victory. We believe we are at the same. We should take victory against Spain."


Titans inseparable after foul plagued 11-11 clash

Gold medal contenders and neighbours Montenegro and Serbia battled to an 11-11 draw in their men's Group B match today. Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) was dominant throughout, scoring his customary five goals and integral in two of the last pivotal points of the match.

For the third time at these Olympics, Prlainovic (SRB) scored five goals but he also gave up a foul from which Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE) scored for 11-10. Prlainovic (SRB) took the final short 16 seconds from time, only to see it blocked.  

Serbia was never behind. Montenegro trailed by two goals on six occasions. Montenegro went 10-9 and 11-9 down in the fourth period before Ivovic scored and Mladan Janovic (MNE) equalized the score in the last two minutes.

Four Montenegro players did not see the game out including Ivovic (SRB). One Serbian player was retired early through three major fouls. Assistant coach Dejan Stanojevic (SRB) was red carded and sent from the pool deck. In extra-man play, Montenegro converted nine of 17 and they successfully defended 13 of Serbia's 19 attempts with a man advantage.

The game was a referee's nightmare. The pair awarded 36 major fouls as two of the best teams on the planet enthralled a packed stadium.  

Serbian head coach Dejan Udovicic broke down his team's play: "In the first two quarters the game went as we had expected but in the following two we played badly. Our man down strategy didn't work. We conceded five goals on five man-down occasions while during the first half they got zero in their eight attempts. Maybe they changed something that we didn't recognise." The Serbian skipper continued his analysis: "In the second half we didn't play at our level, but Montenegro is a very good team, they also showed their strength. It's a good thing from our point of view that despite playing under our standard for two periods, we didn't lose. We are still in front of everybody in the group standings, so we are on the right track to finish in first place in our group. So I should say at this point I am satisfied with this draw. We are in the quarterfinals for sure and to be honest, it doesn't matter whom we will play. All the teams are strong but I think this group is stronger."

Serbian player Zivko (SRB) shared: "After four quarters it was very tough. It was a fight from the beginning to the last second. The result was OK for both teams. We had a two goal lead for a few moments and we could have won. In the last attack Montenegro had a shot for the victory. The most important thing is the one point (which they did not get)." Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) explained: "We had the advantage for most of the game but in the end we suffered by conceding so many goals. In our next match we are going to win against the USA. I'm not confident but I hope. We will relax, stay calm and see what the tactics will be."  

Ranko Perovic (MNE) the Montenegro head coach confirmed: "This is a result which reflected the match. Both sides have made mistakes, but we have to be satisfied with the result." Serbian player Nikola Janovic (MNE) said: "We expected that the game would be close. We brought it back and closed the gap. The match did not begin very well and we made a few mistakes. We had a chance of winning at the end. It means a lot to have the first position in our group. We have a good chance to win it with this result."


USA at top of Group B with victory over Great Britain

The US men notched their third straight victory at the 2012 Olympic Games with a 13-7 defeat of Great Britain. Team Captain Tony Azevedo (USA) scored four goals and Ryan Bailey (USA) added three to pace the offense. Merrill Moses (USA) worked the first period in goal and Chay Lapin (USA) finished off the match with the duo combining for 13 saves. The USA currently sits in first place in Group B with their next match against Serbia set for Saturday.

The USA opened the match with a flurry of goals all from Azevedo (USA). He scored first following an ordinary foul, then followed with a power play goal and concluded with a penalty shot score leaving the United States up 3-0 with 4:00 to play. Minutes later Shea Buckner (USA) scored his first goal of the Olympics on a power play and then John Mann (USA) closed the period with a goal from two metres for a 5-0 advantage.

In the second, Moses gave way to Lapin in the goal but the United States offense kept on firing. Adam Wright (USA) buried a shot less than thirty seconds into the match for a 6-0 lead. Buckner hit for his second goal a minute later and the United States were in command at 7-0. Great Britain's Rob Parker scored the first of his three goals on the night at the 4:40 mark to get the host nation on the board, trailing 7-1. Two minutes later, Bailey got free inside for a score and Team USA was up 8-1. Great Britain closed the half with two straight scores and clawed to within 8-3 by intermission.

On the first possession of the second half Azevedo hit for a power play goal on the bounce, giving the United States a 9-3 lead. Great Britain rattled off two straight goals from Rob Parker (GBR) and closed to within 9-5 with 4:28 to go in the period. Team USA responded with a score from Peter Varellas (USA) as he painted the inside corner on the nearside for a 10-5 lead with 4:06 left in the third. Four minutes followed with each side unable to find the cage until Great Britain broke through with a power play score from Parker (GBR) at the horn, leaving the United States ahead 10-6 going to the fourth.

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credit: Giorgio Scala 

The USA put things away in the fourth with three straight goals. Jeff Powers (USA) drew a penalty, converted by Bailey, and the United States went up 11-6. Bailey scored his third of the night a little over two minutes later as he redirected a pass from Azevedo into the cage. Leading 12-6, Powers iced the game for the Americans with a shot from distance for a 13-6 advantage with 3:19 left. Great Britain would add one final score with :27 remaining, but the outcome had been determined by then. 

The United States went five for ten on extra-man attack and they were two for two on penalties. Great Britain was converted on three extra man opportunities but they did not attempt a penalty.

UK player Ciaran James offered his thoughts about his team's play: "We have been thinking about it a lot. As soon as we go down in games we get motivated, even more motivated than usual. We start again as a team saying it's 0-0. Getting more shots away on target is something we need to do, and we did it, but just getting shots away on target isn't enough, you need to score." His teammate Rob Parker spoke about scoring three goals for the UK in tonight's match: "It was great, but I always say, to score you need the other players to work to set it up and thanks go to the centre forwards. We're a tight team and a goal is an extra. It's good to score in front of a home crown. The last two games started positively and it's a target for our team to stick together. We showed out character when we came back against a team who are Olympic silver medallists. We trust our coach and our tactics. The team stuck to our game plan and it started to work. I have had so many messages from people that I haven't seen for years saying they are watching and that it looks like a great sport. I hope it does encourage more people to play. It's a fun sport and I hope the exposure helps."

Terry Schroeder the USA head coach spoke about the leading players of his team, four-time Olympians Tony Azevedo and Ryan Bailey (USA): "They are great leaders. This team is full of experience: we have these two guys at their fourth Olympics, four guys with three time Olympic experience. Those guys have a good, strong voice, and leadership on the team, it means a lot and they help me a lot. I think Serbia is the best team in the world right now, they have consistency in the last four years, they are the top team. They have a great balance, good centre-forwards, great shooters, a good goalie. They are going to be tough to beat and it will be very difficult to beat them twice if we meet them again later (in the tournament)."

Ryan Bailey, the USA's top scorer offered his thoughts about the pressure from Great Britain in today's match: "After the first quarter we probably relaxed too much and they made our lives miserable, they really made us work for every goal. These guys (my teammates) are making my life easy, I am nothing without them. They work so hard for me and I am able to deliver the end result." Chay Lapin (USA) is making his Olympic Games debut and was asked if the USA eased up after the first quarter: "It was great. I was a little nervous, but I enjoyed the match. It was high energy. We maybe played a little slower, but Great Britain came out to play. We stuck to our game plan and now we will get ready for the match against Serbia."


Croatia defeats Italian world champions to lead Group A standings

Croatia scored an emphatic 11-6 victory over world champions Italy in a men's Group A match. It earned Croatia, the 2012 FINA World League champions, a third consecutive win and group leadership with two matches remaining in their group. Italy has one win, a draw and a loss.  

Croatia opened with three goals and then Italy bounced back into the match dominating the next 13 minutes, 5-2 at the end of the period. With the margin narrowed to 5-4 but favouring Croatia it looked like an interesting match would unfold in the second period. This was not to be as Croatia continued their assault to lead 8-5 at the end of three periods. The Croatian team would deliver a final crushing blow scoring an impressive three goals in the final two minutes.  

Italy was troubled by the Croatian defence and the vigorous tactics between the two extremely physical teams. Miho Boskovic and Sandro Sukno were the top scorers for Croatia with three goals each. Croatia converted only five of their 14 extra-man attacks but Italy was challenged by completing only three of 13 opportunities. Pietro Figlioli and Valentino Gallo netted twice each for Italy.

Italian head coach Alessandro Campagna (ITA) remarked: "It was a tough game as we started really badly. They led 3-0 but we came back to 5-5. We then lost the opportunity to score more goals in the following extra-man situations. We then had three misses towards the end of the third quarter and we couldn't narrow the gap to one. After this the difference just started growing so the game actually finished a couple of minutes before the end."

Italian player Niccolo Gitto (ITA) is already thinking beyond today's loss: "I'm looking forward to facing Kazakhstan on Saturday and I am confident we can remain strong. Today we played well and we trained and prepared in Italy. We have a great coach and a great team atmosphere. I'm confident we can beat them."

Italian teammate Pietro Figioli (ITA) was of the following opinion: "I think we had a lack of strength. We knew what we had to do, but these things happen. In the third quarter especially we were losing 3-0 and we started to rush. It's the Olympics, everyone wants to kill everyone. We are world champions and everyone wants to beat us. It's a long tournament and nothing changes. We can still win our next two games and go through. It's just a matter of respecting our game plan and carrying on."

Croatian head coach Ratko Rudic (CRO) seems confident after today's match: "We could not be first if we lose (our next games) against Kazakhstan and Australia. We are starting to think about our opponents from Group B and the quarterfinals. I think this may be the best Olympic tournament of all and I have been a part of them all in the last 25 years. We have come here to win the gold medal and we will see what is going to happen."  

Croatian player Sandro Sukno commented on the match: "We went in strong and deserved the win. There is no pressure. I am doing what I love within a great team. It's going to be hard (going up against Australia) as they are a good team. We need to prepare well and start strong." Croatian teammate Maro Jokovic spoke about the difference between today's match and their previous game against Spain: "Our man-up play was the main difference and our concentration was poor in the other matches. Our zone defence was extraordinary and we stopped their counter-attack play."