Water polo (M) day 6 - Balkan powerhouses and Italy together in the men's semi-finals

London 2012 Water Polo

Four nations each bordering the Adriatic Sea will play for Olympic medals in the semi-final round of the men's 2012 London Olympic water polo tournament. In today's biggest upset, Italy defeated Hungary, the 2008 Olympic champions to earn their spot in the next round. Italy's opponent is Serbia which had a closer than expected victory over Australia today. Croatia easily dismantled the USA, the 2008 Olympic silver medallists, to secure their spot in Friday's semi-final round. Serbia's opponent is Montenegro, which faced down a challenge by Spain earlier today, winning 11-9.

The losers of today's games will meet in the classification round to play for places 5th through 8th. The USA will face Spain on Friday and the other match up will include Hungary and Australia.


Montenegro dashes Spanish hopes in 11-9 triumph 

Montenegro moved into the semi-finals with a 11-9 victory over Spain in the first men's quarterfinal at the Water Polo Arena on Wednesday. Atlanta 1996 champions Spain produced exciting water polo in the first quarter, matching Montenegro 4-4, and then winning the final quarter 3-1, but Montenegro were ahead 7-5 at half-time and a comfortable 10-6 at the final break.

It was Montenegro captain Nikola Janovic who halted the Spanish charge with a goal from the deep left 1:37 from time for the two-goal margin. Boris Zlokovic (MNE) is one of the form centre forwards at London 2012 and three of his four goals - 11 for the tournament - came on extra-man attack.

Xavier Valles (ESP) scored two excellent goals with the first a high lob pass into centre forward from Felipe Perrone (ESP) in the second quarter for 5-5 and then after finding himself free on two metres in the third period for 10-7 behind.

It was always going to be a tough task for the Spaniards, but to their credit they performed equal to the occasion. Spanish veteran Ivan Perez's last chances of an Olympic medal have slipped by as the competition's oldest competitor at 41 will probably find Rio de Janeiro in 2016 a quest too far. Spain assistant coach Antonio Aparicio was red-carded in the final quarter and is in line for a one-match suspension.

Nineteen players collected major fouls with only Predrag Jokic (MNE) gaining three to leave the match. Montenegro converted five from 13 and Spain only four from 18 on the man-up situations. Montenegro was the FINA World League champion in 2009. The team placed 9th place in the 2009 FINA World Championships and improved to 7th place at last year's Shanghai World Championships. The team lost to Serbia 4-6 missing out on the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Spanish head coach Rafael Aguilar on what they lacked to match Montenegro: "I wouldn't say we lacked anything. It's a quarterfinal match, it's not about playing well or playing bad. It's about winning. This time they did probably more." On what happened in the third period, when Spain started to miss their man-up chances: "We definitely had a bad period then, as we started to convert again in the fourth quarter. The same happened in the match against Italy, we tried to improve that, but again we committed the same mistakes and those cost us a lot."

Spanish player Albert Espanol spoke about the match: "We didn't play very well, they (Montenegro) are very strong. In the beginning we were both winning, then they got a two or three-goal advantage and we missed some shots. Once we were behind, we couldn't get back." On not making the semi-finals: "It's a really hard hit for us, we have been training so hard for so many years for this, it's very frustrating. Losing is never a good score."

Spain's veteran player and the oldest player in the Olympic tournament Ivan Perez on not winning an Olympic medal in his career: "(Basketball player) Charles Barkley (USA) never won an NBA ring, but that doesn't mean he's not a good player. Not winning a medal doesn't mean I haven't achieved anything." On whether the last Montenegro goal should have been disallowed for being shot within the 2m line: "It was definitely inside 2m. But they were always in front on the scoreboard, we could maybe have drawn."

Montenegro's Ranko Perovic head coach on the match: "We knew that it was not going to be easy, but we were good in defence, especially in the man-up situations. It was very difficult psychologically and I have to congratulate my players." On whether he can see his team in the final: "Well, we want to be there, but other teams want to be there as well. I think that we have shown in the match against Spain that physically, we are a very strong team."

Player Mladan Janovic (MNE) on the match and Spain's performance: "It's the quarterfinals, so we knew today's game was going to be very difficult as we are all fighting for the medals. We know we are better than Spain, but the first quarter was very difficult. We played much better for the final three quarters." On the amount of exclusions in the match: "There were a lot of exclusions in the game (33). I don't know why there were that many today, but we do usually get a lot as we are a tough team." His teammate Boris Zlokovic on his feelings about going through to the semi-finals: "Very good, in two games we could win our country's first gold." On whether the team feels under pressure as one of only a few medal hopes for Montenegro: "For the last six years we have always been under pressure. When we don't have pressure, it's something strange for us." Another teammate Nikola Janovic discussed the match: "We are happy because we are the best team. This is a very important day for us."


Serbia overcomes challenge from Australia

Australia nearly pulled off one of the greatest Olympic water polo upsets, but could not convert a three-goal lead into victory against gold-medal favourites Serbia in the second men's quarterfinal at the Water Polo Arena on Wednesday. The normally dominant Serbians won by a flattering 11-8 but found themselves in the unusual position of trailing for three quarters and only took the lead for the first time at 4:19 remaining. Four times Australia led by three goals: 5-2, 6-3 and 8-5.

It was Australia all over the pool after being two down, scoring five unanswered goals as a huge contingent of spectators in green and gold roared on their team. Goals were swapped through to 8-5 two minutes into the third period and then Serbia let go of the brake and shut out the Aussie Sharks for the rest of the match. Filip Filipovic (SRB) scored three goals to lift his tally to 13 and Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) became the first man to 20 goals with a pair either side of the final break.

For Australia, Jamie Beadsworth dug two goals out of the centre-forward position and Richie Campbell blasted two from outside. Australia matched Serbia for shots taken at 29 but once again were caned by the referees on the major-foul count to remain the highest-fouling team at London 2012. Serbia scored three from 11 on man up and Australia two from six.

Australia is in a position to match their country's best Olympic finishes - fifth place at Los Angeles 1984 and Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. Australia's highest finish at the FINA World Championships was 4th place in 1998 held in Perth.

Australian head coach John Fox spoke about his team's fourth quarter play, which they lost 5-0: "I don't think we fell apart, they just changed their defensive structure. We tried to stick to our game plan based on driving, which got us where we were in the first three quarters. Still, we had 11 exclusions to their six and I'm a little bit miffed about that." On whether it was a dream to be ahead of Serbia by two goals before the last period: "We are capable of playing good water polo. But look, in the end, they scored five goals in the last quarter, that's where the game was lost. We played well for three quarters, but we just couldn't hold them in the last one. I won't blame the referees, they didn't cost us the game, we lost it ourselves."  

Australian player Sam McGregor on how the game unfolded in the fourth quarter: "We let in a couple of field goals that let us down. In the first half we were strong in defence, but that changed in the second half." On coming so close to an upset win: "We don't consider it an upset, but we were so close to a win, yet we just couldn't do it in the end." His teammate Rhys Howden on what went wrong: "They got a goal, off me actually, and I'm pretty annoyed about that. They were lucky they got it in the last quarter when it mattered. We were doing everything right, but that's sport." On losing to the favourites: "It's my whole career, you don't train to come to the Olympics and not get a medal, it's heart-breaking. We knew we could have beaten them. We're pretty disappointed, pretty heartbroken."

On the change in Serbia's defence: "I don't think they changed much, it was always going to be a tough last quarter. We probably stopped driving as much as we did in the first two, but credit to them. They stepped up."

Serbian head coach Dejan Udovicic on the match: "It was hairy. I don't know how we have won. I have said that the fourth-placed team has nothing to lose and because of that, they (Australia) were relaxed. We had big problems. They were doing what they don't usually do. We have to forget this match."

Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) who was the leading scored with 18 goals in the 5 match preliminary round on the match: "It was a very tough game. We knew they are strong and never give up. There was a lot of pressure as it was a quarterfinal game. Now we are in the semi-finals we must move forward and forget about it." On Australia making it difficult for them: "They played brilliant; it was probably their (Australia's) best game in the last four years. We were shocked in the first two quarters. Australia shocked." His teammate Gojko Pijetlovic on getting through to the semi-finals: "We are glad we are in the semis. It was a bit of a scare as we didn't want a repeat of the Beijing semi-final (when they lost to USA 10-5)." On the decision to change goalkeepers from Slobodan Soro to himself: "When you change goalkeeper, you can often scare the other team (laughing). No one is afraid of me. I was put in because I was feeling very good and I was in a good mood for it."


Italy upsets 2008 Olympic champion Hungary

A new men's champion will be crowned at London 2012 as the dream run of triple Olympic champions Hungary was ended by world champions Italy with an 11-9 score in the third men's quarterfinal at the Water Polo Arena on Wednesday. The shattered Hungarians exited from the pool in disbelief that they would not even play for a medal, let alone one with a golden glow. Italy can lay claim to the Olympic crown - if they can first pass Serbia in the semi-finals - after a glorious effort, leading 5-4 at half-time and 8-5 heading into the final quarter.

As Hungary clawed their way back into the match for 9-8 and then 10-9 with 39 seconds remaining, it looked like the Hungary of old were back in with a chance. That opportunity was blown, however, when Hungary's three-goal hero Norbert Madaras was excluded and Pietro Figlioli (ITA), scorer of three goals, back-flipped the ball to teammate Christian Presciutti to score his third on the final siren for 11-9.

Maurizio Felugo was the third Italian to score three in the match, netting the critical 7-5 and 10-8 goals. It was not the extra-man shooting percentage that decided the match, but Italy's defence, effective outside shooting and Hungary's indifferent shooting. Italy scored five goals from 11 chances and Hungary five from 10

Six of the Hungarian champions have stood atop the dais three times, but will leave London with the feeling of defeat and finishing no better than fifth, depending entirely on their play in the classification round of 5-8.

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credit: Giorgio Scala 

Watching the match from the stands was the oldest living Olympic champion, 98-year-old Alex Tarics, who now lives in the United States but won gold with Hungary at Berlin 1936. Tarics was a member of the second gold medal won by Hungary, their first of nine was won in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Tarics turns 99 on September 23.

Hungarian head coach Denes Kemeny on the differences between this team and the ones crowned in the previous three Olympics: "In the past we were strong enough to withstand the pressure coming either from the opponent or from the poolside (the referees). This team are not as rock-solid as the others were. Today we played bad enough to give Italy and the others the chance to smell blood." On what went wrong: "Based on the previous match (against USA), we thought we had corrected our defensive mistakes, but we started to concede goals from eight or nine metres and that caused turmoil at the back again. This made our players more and more unbalanced, and in that state of mind, one cannot be on fire."

Hungarian player Norbert Madaras on the game and his team's failure to reach the semi-final: "The Italians were really confident and they had it easy in the beginning. I believe when the score went to 8-5 (to Italy), that was the critical point in the match because we couldn't bring it back. It's a very bad feeling not to be in the semi-finals. I don't believe the Italian team are any better than us. We didn't play well, unfortunately." His teammate Tamas Kasas on how he feels: "I feel empty. This game we played, maybe they were stronger in the head." On where the match was lost: "We didn't believe it was over until the last minute. Everybody is inside themselves right now, there is not too much talking."

Italian head coach Alessandro Campagna on his team's victory in the quarterfinal round: "Hungary has many Olympic titles, but we have a star team and we put them under difficulty with our tactics. We deserved to win and I liked the way we were passing the ball in the right way at the right time. We showed great patience and put Hungary in crisis. This is a great feat, to have beaten the Olympic champions. We made Hungary suffer. They are very strong and aggressive, but we prepared very well." On what he told the players after Italy lost its lead in the fourth quarter: "After Hungary caught up I told them (the players) to stay calm." On whether this is a historic win: "I've always said that we need to make history, but history is made by winners. We have a lot of motivation. We have grown during this tournament."

Italian player Pietro Figlioli on beating the 2008 Olympic champions: "I've never been to an Olympic semi-final, so it's a very pleasurable experience. The emotions are high at the moment and we need to try and keep them low." On having a goalkeeper playing well: "When you have a great goalkeeper (Stefano Tempesti), he can save the extra two or three that a regular keeper can't, but when the whole defence is playing well, you see what happens." His teammate Maurizio Felugo on how Italy played: "We played at the highest level. We played against one of the strongest teams ever. We know that we work very hard and this is the way we like it. The way we play water polo is the way others try to play. It is us who dictate how our opponents' play, such as with their tactics. It's a bit like in football." On going forward to the semi-finals: "We are very happy about beating the three-time Olympic champions. It is good for the upward movement of water polo in Italy."


Croatia drowns USA to advance to men's semi-final 

Croatia had the easiest of the quarterfinal clashes in the men's competition, beating United States 8-2. The match was not without tension and drama. Two-goal star Paulo Obradovic (CRO) was suspended for chatting to the referee early in the third quarter.

In the dying seconds of the same period, Andro Buslje (CRO) gained his third major foul when he tried to punch the USA shot away, which is not allowed by a field player. One mistake was compounded by another from the opposing team when USA captain Tony Azevedo swam up to take the penalty shot. Azevedo threw his body too far over the five-metre line and the goal was disallowed.

It was a shocking result for the USA, held scoreless in the first half after 2-0 and 3-0 quarters for 5-0. The USA dragged the game back to 5-2 in the third quarter but Croatia led 7-2 at the final break. Worse still for Beijing 2008 silver medallists USA was a third consecutive loss by five or more goals. The USA scored just one from 15 chances on extra-man play with Croatia slightly better at three from 12.

Croatia now plays neighbours Montenegro in the semi-finals with USA heading to the round of 5-8.

USA head coach Terry Schroeder on losing three straight and one-sided matches to Serbia, Hungary and Croatia: "There are a lot of good teams here and we played three of them in a row. Today we did few things well, but in the six on fives we didn't do well. The five-men defence was very strong, but we scored one from 15 in six on fives, and it's tough to win that way. We could have done a better job in the last three games." On their demise after a strong start in the tournament: "The Olympics is a pretty amazing thing, happening once every four years and you have to be at your peak for those two weeks. For whatever reason, we started out well and we were strong against Montenegro, but after that we seemed to be a little bit up and down. We never found our rhythm and probably the belief in ourselves either."

USA player Ryan Bailey on what went wrong: "Wasn't our day, very disappointed. Sometimes that's just what happens. We weren't connecting the dots and didn't take advantage of the man-ups." On what is next for him: "Take some time off, regroup, keep training and stay physically fit, but this is probably my last Olympics." On whether USA were prepared enough: "We prepared well, trained hard, physically we were fantastic. I have no excuses."  

USA goalkeeper Merrill Moses on the team's play today: "There's a lot of team chemistry, we're like brothers. There's not one of those guys I wouldn't go to war with, and every game is like a war, but we didn't execute our game plan and it's a sad moment in our career. This is the best team the US has had in a long time and unfortunately we couldn't keep the legacy." On the game: "They executed their game plan and we didn't execute ours. The bottom line is that they played better. The game comes down to six on fives, that is what our coach always tells us. Their goalie played very well and it was their day, not ours." On the tournament: "We've played the powerhouses of water polo, Hungary, Serbia and Croatia, but we've been able to play in that pool for a while now and today is a sad day for all of us as we've put a lot of time in." 

Croatian head coach Ratko Rudic on his team's defence today: "Our goalkeeper Josip Pavic has been brilliant. The whole defence has been strong. We were good in attack as well and we had chances to score more goals, but you shouldn't exaggerate. We have just bought a ticket for the big show. We have to keep our feet on the ground but we'll have a small celebration and start studying (Montenegro) our next opponent. We know what their strong and weak points are, but if we repeat today's game we should be alright." 

Croatian player Niksa Dobud on his team's performance: "We played very well, especially our defence. I think that was our best ever in defence. On having training camps with the USA before the tournament: "We know each other. Teams will always get together as preparation, so we know their game and it helped." Teammate Igor Hinic on whether training with the USA was an advantage: "Well, it obviously helped Croatia a lot, but not so much USA." On whether Croatia played well or the USA played badly: "Both of these are true, but the USA were not as good as we expected them to be."


SCHEDULE OF FRIDAY, AUGUST 10th:

Classification Round for 5th to 8th places:

USA - ESP

HUN - AUS

Semifinal Round:

CRO - MNE

ITA - SRB