Water polo (M) day 5 – Croatia and Serbia are the only undefeated quarterfinalists

London 2012 Water Polo

Following the conclusion of the preliminary round in the men's tournament, Croatia and Serbia were the top ranked teams in Group A and B respectively. Croatia was the only team with five victories, while Serbia earned four wins and a draw with Montenegro. Croatia will meet the USA, the 4th ranked team from Group B in the first game of the quarterfinal round which begins on Wednesday. Serbia will match up against Australia, the 4th ranked team from Group A in the fourth match of the quarterfinal round

Spain, the second place team in Group A will square off against Montenegro, which finished third in Group B in the quarter final in the second match of the next round. In Wednesday's third match, Italy, the number 3 ranked team in Group A will face Hungary, the second ranked team from Group B and the 2008 Olympic champions. Hungary's campaign was off to a uncertain start having lost their first two matches to Serbia and Montenegro, but they won their final three matches in the preliminary round.

Four teams, the lowest two in each group will not advance beyond the preliminary round of five games. Finishing in 9th place was the team from Greece which beat Kazakhstan, tied Italy and lost three Group A matches. Romania placed 10th, beating Great Britain, but losing to the other 4 teams in Group B. In 11th place was Kazakhstan which lost all five of their Group A matches, but had a better goal differential than the 12th place team. Host team Great Britain made their first appearance in the Olympic tournament since the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, and played their final game of London 2012 today, losing five consecutive games in the preliminary rounds of Group B, and finishing 12th in the Olympic tournament.

Hungary drowns USA, 11-6 in Group B finale

Hungary are back and ready to retain their Olympic crown after a dominant 11-6 display over United States in a Group B men's match at the Water Polo Arena. After two losses, Hungary have strung together three wins to gain third position in the group, one place above fellow quarterfinalists USA after what was a rematch of the Beijing 2008 gold-medal final. It was the manner in which the Hungarians put together a near-perfect game plan and executed it precisely, that really impressed.

USA were made to look ordinary. Hungary built their programme around winning at Olympic Games, as they have done for the last three and six before that. It was a close match early on as Hungary scored the lone goal of the first period, a power play score at the 6:25 mark. From there neither side could find the net. USA's best chance came on a power play attempt with less than a minute to go in the period. 

The second period was strong for the Hungarians as they scored three straight goals in a little over two minutes to take a 4-0 lead with 5:52 left. The United States broke through with 4:41 to go in the half when Adam Wright (USA) drew a penalty and Tony Azevedo (USA) converted for a 4-1 match. 

Hungary responded with a power play score on their next possession to reclaim a four goal lead at 5-1. A few minutes later the United States had an answer with a power play goal from John Mann (USA) inside for a 5-2 game. Once again Hungary would score on their next possession, this time on a penalty shot, to take a 6-2 lead at halftime.

Ninety seconds into the third period the Hungarians drew another penalty, one of three on the day, and Tamas Kasas converted for a 7-2 lead. Jeff Powers (USA) got one back for the United States on an inside score to close to 7-3 with 4:37 left. Hungary answered immediately on their next possession with a power play goal, the third of the day for Norbert Hosnyanszky (HUN), to take an 8-3 lead. The Hungarians followed that up by halting a USA power play and then adding two more goals of their own to close out the period ahead 10-3.

USA fought hard to the end and won the final quarter 3-1 in what will be good preparation for the harder task ahead. Six different scorers found the cage for the USA. Goalkeeper Merrill Moses (USA) posted five saves in net. The loss leaves the USA at 3-2 and currently in fourth place at the conclusion of group play setting up a likely match with Croatia, the champion of Group A.

The man-up situations were fairly even with Hungary converting four from 10 and USA four from 11 and 14 players shared in the scoring.  USA and Croatia met most recently at the semi-finals of the 2012 FINA World League Super Final, an 11-10 win for Croatia. 

USA's head coach Terry Schroeder (USA) shared his thoughts after the drubbing by Hungary: "It could be better. Actually, we started good, the same way as we played against other teams, but offensively we didn't get it. We have to regroup, pick ourselves up and find our hearts. The tournament starts now, with the quarterfinals. I believe in these boys and they believe in themselves."

USA team captain Tony Azevedo (USA) discussed the USA's performance: "Hungary played well, pressing all over. We made a lot of mistakes in defence. We're all human, we don't make money out of this. We need to play like we did when we were kids - we play because we love it." Teammate Jesse Smith (USA) agreed: "We're just not playing well. We've played together for a very long time, so we're going to start playing for each other. We're going to adopt the GB supporters' mentality of 'you're never out of it. It's do or die now we are in the knockout stages, so we have to give it our best shot."

Hungarian head coach Denes Kemeny (HUN) broke down his team's game: "We've reached another level. This is the way the team is capable of playing if they all give 100% concentration. Our attack worked in the previous matches, now the defence was focused as well. It wasn't surprising as this team has shown during the last 15 years that they can do excellent things at the back. If they regard it a message, I leave them this way. We didn't want messaging or demonstrating, we just wanted to win, since winning is the best one can feel - apart from other nice things in life - and a win can give the athlete the strongest feedback. We got that feedback today and this is quite important before the knockout phase."

Player Peter Biros (HUN) was happy with his team's effort: "For us, it is a really good win. I think you can tell by the score that we wanted to win the match a lot more than the USA. We didn't want to start the tournament with two defeats, but we are playing well and now we want to go on and win the quarters, the semis and the final." Teammate Norbert Madras (HUN) downplayed the victory: "Today's game was not too important. We have three more games and everybody can win. If we play like we played today, we can win."

Montenegro defeats Great Britain to finish second behind Serbia in Group B 

Montenegro beat Great Britain 13-4 to close group B preliminary play in second place behind Serbia. Great Britain depart in 12th place, having played their first Olympic Games since 1956.

Montenegro finished with a 3-1-1 record from the five matches and look keen for the quarterfinals after a smooth and untroubled outing. Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE) added two goals for 12 from the competition and powerhouse centre forward Boris Zlokovic was at his belligerent best with three goals and is fast becoming the star two-metre-position man at London 2012.

Aleksandar Radovic (MNE) moved his tally to eight, scoring two outside shots and a penalty goal. Montenegro led 4-1 at the quarter and 8-3 at the long break. Great Britain improved with every minute and kept the scoring low in the third period with captain Craig Figes backhanding the ball into goal from six metres for one of the best scores of the match. At 10-4, Montenegro controlled the final quarter with three varied goals. Great Britain will learn that the extra-man situations are paramount as Montenegro converted five goals from seven attempts. Great Britain managed one from seven in what was a low-fouling, but open, encounter.

Head coach Ranko Personvic (MNE) offered his comments on the match: "We have done what we wanted to do, we have practiced some of our defensive and attacking options. No, no rest at all (before the quarterfinal), we are working every single day. We have to prepare ourselves psychologically." Team player Drasko Brguljan (MNE) shared: "It was a good game, but GB do not play the best quality water polo. They have bravery and they are young, so with more training they will be a good team." His teammate Nikola Janovic (MNE) observed: "We're happy, we've played some great games and we're optimistic. First we must win the quarterfinal, then we'll think about the rest of the tournament. It's normal to play against Croatia, Serbia, USA, but we had to play the same against Great Britain, even though we know they aren't as good. But I want to congratulate them on how they've played."

credit: Giorgio Scala 

Cristian Iordache (ROU) the Great Britain head coach was thrown in the pool at the end of the match, a tradition usually reserved for the match winners: "It was the best thing that's happened to me in the four years spent here. All the matches, all the defeats, all the hard work, they were worth it to live this moment. We tried to be on the same level of the vice European champion, I think we did the best we could, just as we did during the Olympics. This is a major experience for the players which they can bring with themselves to future competitions. We tried to do our best and we kept fighting with the big teams as we could. To be honest, we've been waiting for 56 years to have a team in the Olympics, and we'd better take care of this team in the future as I'm not sure that building another one later would be the best solution."

Player Ciaran James (GBR) theorised: "Hopefully it will mean more recognition across the country and a lot more people will stop asking me if it is all about horses in the water." Teammate Rob Parker (GBR) spoke of the lessons learned in the tournament: "It shows how far off we still are. We never dreamt of ever competing in any quarterfinals. But it shows we can match these teams and with more experience and training, slowly we can creep up on these dudes". Asked what the GB players will do the rest of the week he replied: "We'll chill out. Get water polo off our minds and enjoy watching GB compete." Sean Ryder (GBR) said: "We can take a lot of positives from these matches and they have done us a favour. We played without pressure and nobody had any expectations for us. It allowed us to play with the freedom to make mistakes and we have learned from them."

Italy edges Spain 10-7 to claim second rank in Group A

World champions Italy claimed second in group A with a 10-7 victory over Spain, who finished with seven points, now play a resurgent Hungary, winner of the last three Olympic Games. Third-ranked Spain, with six points, will clash with Montenegro, who were second in the other group.

The Italians were four up before Spain entered the scoring via Marc Minguell (ITA) on extra-man attack. Minguell converted another man-up play for 5-3 behind as former Croatian Danijel Premus (ITA) began to make his mark on the match. He scored three centre-forward goals in the second quarter, one fading to his right, another turning and the third after gaining an exclusion. Italy went from 6-3 at half-time to 8-4 at the end of three periods. Centre forward Matteo Aicardi (ITA) struck either side of the final break, the first on extra-man attack and the first of the fourth period a superb turn at two metres.

Then the match became interesting as the Spanish fans erupted again and again as Albert Espanol (ESP) from outside, Javier Garcia (ESP) from the right and Espanol (ESP) again with a flick in of a rebound to bring the game to within two goals and plenty of time remaining at 3:26.

Both teams missed chances before Maurizio Felugo (ITA), returning from a major foul, caught everyone off guard with a nine-metre skip shot for 10-7 at 1:46 left to seal the game. Italy mastered centre forward as much as the man-up plays, scoring three from eight chances. Spain did no better than two from 12.

Rafael Aguilar (ESP) head coach explained his team's play and praised good fortune of Italy: "It was a good match. We were really sure what we were doing, but the Italian centre forwards had a perfect day. They did a lot of harm to us, also their players assisted each other quite well, while we committed mistakes worthy of scoring goals into our own net. Since we have eight very good teams in the quarterfinals, who all have a chance to win a medal. Perhaps Serbia are a step ahead of the field, but playing with any other team it's just all the same."

Spanish player Daniel Lopez summed up: "A fair result. We got what we deserved. What is the difference between second and third? We wanted to avoid Serbia, so our position is not really a big issue." Teammate Albert Espanol (ESP) expressed his disappointment: "I think we started very badly, we were three goals down from the beginning and the rest of the match we could not get the deficit back. Every game is important, we were both already qualified for the quarterfinals, but I think the next game will be different, we will approach it differently."

Italian head coach Alessandro Campagna accepting the challenge ahead: "I think we needed these games to believe more in our style and to be more confident later in the tournament, when we'll play against the top teams. We have nothing to lose against Hungary (in the quarterfinal). I know very well how great a team Hungary are. Anyway, it'll be a great quarterfinal with two great teams."

Italian player Maurizio Felugo insists that he and his teammates are focused on winning Olympic medals: "We're very pleased, it has not been an easy competition so far. Of course we are, it's very hard not to (think about medals). There's a lot of emotion in the camp. We're looking forward to the end of the week."

Italian teammate Pietro Figlioli spoke about the benefits of finishing second: "Yes it's important psychologically, there were a few lapses of concentration at the end of the game. We believe in performing well and then the results will follow, we have confidence in our systems. Absolutely we're ready, we have been training for three years, so you have to be ready now. It's not going to be a walk in the park, we know that, whoever we play."

Croatia sinks Kazakhstan and is undefeated in Group A

Croatia beat Kazakhstan 12-4 for a fifth consecutive win and Group A supremacy on the fifth and final day of preliminary men's action at the Water Polo Arena on Monday. Kazakhstan will bow out of the tournament. The Kazakhstan team was winless and will collect 11th or 12th placing depending on the goal difference with the sixth team in Group B.

Niksa Dobud (CRO) controlled the centre-forward position, scoring five goals to lift his tournament tally to 12. He tipped, swept, backhanded and swatted the goals with obvious ease, using his considerable turning power to frequently threaten the Kazakhstan goalkeeper. With a flawless sheet, Croatia can now think of gold medals and what they need to do to steer a path through the quarterfinals.

Croatia were 4-0 up at the quarter and a sedate 5-1 at halftime. It was 9-3 at the final break and 12-3 late in the fourth before Kazakhstan captain Yevgeniy Zhilyayev scored his second goal. Croatia were near perfect on extra-man attack, converting five from six. Kazakhstan netted two from five.

Head coach Sergey Drozdov (KAZ) offered his thoughts on whether the players thought Croatia were too strong: "Croatia are a very strong team and yes, the players probably thought it was impossible to play even a tight match with them. We made too many mistakes in the back, especially in our zonal defence - we had too many exclusions. We learnt a lot and I think in most of the matches we performed on the expected level. We didn't have high expectations - it was already a great achievement to qualify for the Olympics."

Player Sergey Gorovoy (KAZ) broke news on his 37th birthday celebrated today: "I am finished with water polo, now I will retire. We (our national team) will play against much stronger teams (in the future) to develop water polo in our country." Teammate Yevgeniy Zhilyayez (KAZ): "We tried our best, but our opponents (Croatia) were much stronger. Our goal was to finish in the top eight and we didn't manage this, so we are not feeling great. The Olympic experience is not like anything else and you can't always be prepared". Asked about the 2016 Rio Olympics he replied: "No, I won't. It feels bad, but it's enough for me now."

Head coach Ratko Rudic (CRO) on playing hard, even when the match wasn't of great importance (Croatia would top group A regardless of the result, Kazakhstan would finish bottom): "These are the Olympic Games. We have to respect that and to leave a mark - maybe not with the result, but with our play. That is the match which will lead us to the battle for the medals. The pressure is big and we have to protect our players from that. We have to think and play rationally."

Player Maro Jokovic (CRO) was focused on his team's next rival: "Serbia, definitely, we have been watching them and they have showed a lot. Every team now is fighting for the same thing; nobody is going to back down easily. These five wins mean nothing if we lose the next match. This was an easy game; we've been preparing more for the quarters." Teammate Niksa Dobud (CRO) discussed his team's five game preliminary round: "There are no easy games in the Olympics, especially when it's this early in the morning." Dobud (CRO) joked with one of his coaches at the end of the third quarter: "I said, 'why must I go out? I'm just starting to score', I was just joking, of course." 

Australia nabs 8th spot in quarterfinals by defeating Greece in Group A play

Australia grabbed the eighth men's quarterfinal berth with a spectacular 13-8 group A victory over Greece. The heavily penalised Australians gave a high-flying display and had a 3-2 quarter-time lead, which expanded to 8-5 at half-time and then to a match-winning 11-6 at the final break.

A critical centre-forward goal from Jamie Beadsworth (AUS) on extra-man attack for 7-4 seemed to give the Australian team the impetus to strike harder and more often. The ball appeared to stop on the line, but referee Mihajlo Ciric (SRB) over-ruled the goal judge who signalled no goal. Australia marched to 11-5 deep into the third period. Greece struck twice, either side of the final break, for 11-7, but when Billy Miller (AUS) let fly with a projectile on extra-man for 12-7 with less than five minutes remaining, Greece were virtually assigned to the spectator benches. 

The adrenalin rush of the Australians will be needed again in the quarterfinals as the bottom qualifiers will have to face the Group B winners. Rhys Howden was the key for Australia with three action goals from near the five-metre line to have his team at 9-5 up. Theodoros Chatzitheodorou (GRE), returning to the national team for a third Olympic Games, scored three of Greece's first four goals. Australia's tremendous defence when a man down meant Greece could only convert three from 15 chances. Australia scored six from nine.

Greek head coach Dragan Andric (SRB) expressed concerns about being labelled the Olympic favourites and revealed his future status: "The pressure might be the reason (we lost). Australia has shown how a team should fight. It seems every single shot from the Australians went in our goal. We didn't take our chances. It seems we are paying the price for being absent from big competitions for a long time. My contract is expiring after these Olympics. I have to talk to the Greek water polo people."

Player Christos Afroudakis (GRE) said: "We already know how the Australians play, but we didn't react and we conceded too many goals early in the match. After you are a long way down at this level, it is hard to come back. We did not play as well as we could today and we should have played differently, but it's in the past now and it is a good lesson. Now we will take a rest and I will help the team to prepare for the next big competition." His teammate Georgios Afroudakis (GRE) was concerned about his team's play today and his nation's support: "We had a bad game at the beginning, it was not good play and we lost the opportunity to reach the last eight. I believe we are a better team than Australia and we should have gone through. Yes, there are funding problems and we need the government to support water polo. The government might close some swimming pools next year. They must take care and keep the pools open for the next generation of water polo players."

Australian head coach John Fox (AUS) revealed his pre-game strategy that worked: "We had a long, long meeting yesterday. It was player driven. I said 'look, this is what we need to do to win this game. We went through situations and we were very critical of each other; even we, the coaches, were criticised. We accounted for every single goal we've let in this tournament. It was a painful process, but it's paid off today as the players said it should never happen again. It was a relief to put the game beyond Greece by the end of the third quarter. In the last quarter we changed some things, but all we had to do was to stick to our game plan, which we did and the boys did what we asked them."

Player Johnno Cotterill (AUS) wasn't sure if it was luck or skill: "I think in a tournament it does come down to luck, but today we clicked. We finally put all our systems in place and played for four quarters. Any Olympics is about momentum. Today was a final and we have three more if we want a medal. But now we have some momentum to do that. A lot of them (our Greek opponents) are good friends, but you forget about that in the water and it showed in the exchanges, and a few bad things were said in the Greek press."

Jamie Beadsworth (AUS) was upbeat about today's results: "Definitely, it was a lot better feeling than the last few days. Our man-ups, both in attack and defence were massive issues in previous games, but we sat down and clarified things."

Serbia demolishes Romania 12-4

Serbia took out men's Group B honours with a 12-4 victory over Romania. Serbia finished with four wins and a draw with Montenegro, leaving Group A winners Croatia, as the only five-win team.  

Romania, back in the Olympic arena for the first time since 1996, leaves the tournament winless. Serbia were 5-0 ahead before Romania first scored through Kalman Kadar with a short drive. The margin then went 6-1 at the half and 10-1 after three quarters.

Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) scored twice on extra-man advantage to stretch his tournament-high total to 18. Fellow Serbians Filip Filipovic (SRB) and captain Vanja Udovicic (SRB) moved their totals to 10 with one apiece. It was all Serbia and Romania tried until the end, collecting three goals in the last period. Slobodan Nikic (SRB) enjoyed the extra-man plays, scoring off three, especially when sitting so close to goal. Two of Serbian Stefan Mitrovic's three goals also came on extra man attacks. Serbia went six from seven on man-up and Romania converted two from seven attempts.

Serbian head coach Dejan Udovicic offered his reaction to his team's play in the match: "We should be full of confidence, bearing in mind our style of play, especially in the last two matches. But it doesn't mean that we should relax too much. Australia (their quarterfinal opponent) are psychologically difficult opponents. They have nothing to lose, which is a more comfortable position to be in. Regarding the pressure, it's not the first time or last time for us to play such an important game."

Serbian player Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) was confident about today's result: "Yes, it's important. It was easy, but our attitude from the beginning was very good. We have to be serious in every game and we are getting in better shape. We are ready for the next game."

Teammate Filip Filipovic (SRB) explains why he puts his robe behind the goal they are defending: "It's just a superstition I have had since I started playing water polo. Everyone has their own little superstition in big matches, this is one of mine. We won the game in the first three quarters and, in the fourth, we mentally relaxed. If you fall down for one second, you concede goals. I'm very happy, now we play (Australia) the weakest team in the other group. It will be physically exhausting, as Australia are very physical, so we'll have to prepare tactically."

Romanian head coach Istvan Kovacs (HUN) spoke about their farewell match: "We tried to have a nice farewell, but it was a kind of mission impossible against the Serbs, they are extremely strong. I saw them sweeping aside the USA team, and I was afraid it would be like being hit by a truck for us today. It did not happen, but we were close to it. Thank God we scored some goals in the end. Qualifying for this Olympics was the most this team could achieve, since we had the four semi-finalists from Beijing in our group. We tried our best, we had a win and some close matches, and that's fine. My contract is finished, now it's time to go on holiday and cheer for Hungary."

Player Cosmin Radu (ROU) explained his team's predicament: "We were in a very difficult group, playing against the defending champions and also the favourites. It was very hard, but we tried our best. You don't have enough paper to write down all the things we need to do. We have to change as a team and get younger players into the team if we hope to be as good as Serbia. They are the favourites and the only team that can beat them are themselves. If they play to the best of their ability, they will win." 

His teammate Kalman Kadar (ROU) was asked whether the team are happy with their play: "We did play well, but we did not make eighth in the tournament and this is what we wanted to do. We played well against Hungary, against the USA and Montenegro, but we didn't manage to make the top eight and I feel sad about this. I don't know, I hope to play in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Olympics is unique. We get well looked after and we can live like children, I have enjoyed it very much. We have played against some of the best teams in the world and we had a good chance to win some of these matches. Just to be here is the result of the team's motivation and resolve to never give up. Serbia has the best chance of taking gold."

Schedule of Men's Water Polo Quarterfinal Round - Wednesday, August 8th

Croatia - USA

Spain - Montenegro

Italy - Hungary

Australia - Serbia

credit: Giorgio Scala