Water polo (M) day 7 - Italy will play Croatia for the final; Serbia and Montenegro fight for bronze

London 2012 Water Polo

Croatia will face Italy on Sunday at 15:50 at the London 2012 Olympic Water Polo Arena to determine the winner of the gold medal in this tournament. In today's semi final match Croatia, the only undefeated team, defeated Montenegro by a score of 7-5. Italy bested Serbia to earn their opportunity to play for the Olympic gold medal.

In the classification round, Spain will meet Hungary for the decision on which team will finish in 5th place at this tournament. The USA and Australia will battle for the 7th and 8th positions in the tournament. The placement of the following teams was determined after the five match preliminary round: 9th place: Greece, 10th place: Romania, 11th place: Kazakhstan, 12th place: Great Britain.


Italy dismisses Serbian challenge to play for Olympic gold

World champions Italy will play Croatia for the men's gold medal on Sunday after defeating world cup champions Serbia 9-7 in the second semifinal at the Water Polo Arena on Friday. It was a replay of the 2011 FINA World Championships in which Italy emerged the victors and the journey would be complete should a Sunday victory follow the last crown 20 years before in Barcelona.

For head coach Sandro Campagna it would be a triumph. For the moment, the 1992 Olympic champion as a player can contemplate being an Olympic champion coach as he already has the world championship double. Serbia's constant run of playing for championships has been halted and a rematch of the Beijing 2008 bronze-medal match with Montenegro is a reality.

Valentino Gallo (ITA) enjoyed the after-match celebrations as he did each time he scored one of his three goals. Serbia led 2-1 early; trailed 4-2 at the first quarter with two defensive deflections; 6-4 at halftime and 8-5 at the final break. Filip Filipovic breathed life into the Serbian game with a swift extra-man goal. However, Amaurys Perez (ITA) scored his third and most important goal of the tournament, sweeping in an air ball on man up for 9-6, just before the final minute.

Serbian captain Vanya Udovicic responded with his third, but all too late. It came on extra, something Serbia do well, netting six from 10 chances. Italy could only convert three from 13, but then, the Italian flourish on action proved fatal to Serbian hopes.

Serbian head coach Dejan Udovicic on the match: "If I'm honest, we haven't been lucky. They scored two goals from deflected shots at the start of the match, which is very difficult to defend against and we missed some clear chances that usually we would score from." On his players being visibly shaken: "This final was very important to us, but of course we'll be happy with the bronze medal, if we win it." 

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credit: Giorgio Scala 

Serbian player Filip Filipovic also commented the game: "Italy were better and stronger. All credit to them. Now we have to fight for third place, for the bronze medal and it is going to be difficult. At the moment, we are emotionally and physically flat, but we have to try one more time." Serbian teammate Andrija Prlainovic shared his feelings: "It's difficult. At the end we must concede defeat. We didn't play as good as expected. It's sport, sometimes you must lose." His teammate Slobodan Nikic on how he is feeling: "Very bad, we didn't play very good in defence. Congratulations to Italy." On their preparation for the next game for the bronze: "We will play Montenegro and try to play for bronze. But now it's very difficult as we have just lost one game and now we have 48 hours to try and play better."

Italian head coach Alessandro Campagna on whether he can be regarded as a magician after ousting powerhouses Hungary and Serbia: "No, it's nothing about magic, it's about physical condition. We deserved to win this match as we are very strong physically, but also played a very clever, tactical game." On whether the team's performance reminds him of 2011, when they won the world title: "Everybody is on the same level as they were in Shanghai (at the world championships)."

Italian player Maurizio Felugo on the result: "We're happy, we worked hard in this game. Congratulations to Serbia, but today we were very well organised. We're a young team, first Olympics, we are very crazy." On expecting this result against Serbia: "Serbia is an unbelievable team, they played well, but today we won, because we are like a family." On praying in the pool just before the last quarter: "I think it is important to think that we are not alone." Italian teammate Matteo Aicardi on beating Hungary (in the quarterfinals) and Serbia (in the semis): "They both are different teams. Hungary is fast and strong, Serbia became more and more together than Hungary." His teammate Pietro Figlioli on winning the match: "I feel fantastic, speechless, I hate to be repetitive, but it's amazing." On their performance: "We made things a lot easier for ourselves and we didn't waste our energy on falling into their traps of playing physically. We walked away with the game, it's a matter of playing as a team." Italian player Valentino Gallo (ITA) on winning the match: "I feel very good, very happy, but the Olympic Games doesn't finish here. Croatia is the most important game (in the final on Sunday), we must be ready. They play very physically, it's going to be very hard." On expecting to win against Serbia: "It's impossible to say if we would win for sure. We played hard, and we stayed concentrated from the first minute to the last." On being surprised to get this far: "Over the last three years we have always made the finals, or the semifinals so this was not a big surprise. The surprise is that we started off well at this Olympic Games."


Croatia defeats Montenegro to advance to gold medal game 

A five-goal, first-half burst pushed Croatia into the men's gold-medal final, defeating Montenegro 7-5 in the first semifinal at the Water Polo Arena on Friday. From ninth at January's European championships, the Ratko Rudic-coached team had the game wrapped up at 5-1 by half-time. It means Croatia will be in the Olympic final for the first time since Atlanta 1996. Unlike Atlanta when Croatia debuted and seemed happy to take home silver while Spain claimed gold, Croatia looks the team to go all the way in London.

The second half lacked lustre as Croatia did what they needed and European silver medallists Montenegro had trouble getting through the defence, let alone brilliant goalkeeper Josip Pavic - probably the best cage man at London 2012. In fact, both teams made a huge number of errors.

Man mountain Boris Zlokovic (MNE) was fouled out late in the third period; Montenegro head coach Ranko Perovicwas yellow carded; and scoring machine Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE) was restricted to two goals, taking his tally to 16. It was Croatia's match with Sandro Sukno edging closer to emulating father Goran Sukno as an Olympic champion. Sukno senior earned his gold with Yugoslavia in 1984.      

Sukno scored the 4-1 goal with a bouncer and converted a penalty goal for 7-3 two minutes from three-quarter time. On extra-man advantage, both teams were miserly with what they let through, Croatia scoring one from nine attempts and Montenegro none from 11.

Montenegro's head coach Ranko Perovic (MNE) on his team's struggle to score: "We played as we had agreed to play, but we could just not get the ball into Croatia's net. Our man-up let us down today, while Croatia played a great game and they deserved this win, for sure. We have to play for the bronze medal and we have to be ready for that match. There is no time to cry."

Player Drasko Brguljan (MNE) on where the match was lost: "Their goalkeeper (Josip Pavic) was very good today, that is that. We couldn't score the goals to win us the game. We have to play for the bronze medal. The people in Montenegro expect a medal, so this is what we have to try and do." His teammate Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE) on what went wrong: "The match didn't go how we expected. We were planning to take control at the beginning, but they got the advantage on us. We have to go and win a medal. We need to relax and go back into the next game more focused. We will be so upset if we come fourth. It will be like we didn't do anything."

Croatian head coach Ratko Rudic on Croatia's return to an Olympic final, the first time since 1996: "We have had a terrific series, we are destroying our opponents. We are not winning by a goal or two, but with a convincing difference. That is the result of our strong defence." On their opponents in the final (Italy or Serbia): "Doesn't matter. If we play well in defence, the chances to win the gold are very good. I think that our opponents are going to accommodate their game to our style of play, not the other way round." On his longevity as a coach, as he won his first gold medal as a coach in Los Angeles 1984: "I enjoy my job, I enjoy water polo and sport in general."

Croatian player Sandro Sukno on this being the best moment of his career: "For sure it is and I hope Sunday (the final) will be even better." On whether losing to Montenegro in Beijing 2008 was any motivation: "It was a long time ago, so really it was redundant to think about it. A semi-final is enough motivation." Teammate Miho Boskovic on making the final: "I said from day one that we would be in the final. Our form is going up. It was very tough today and the referees allowed a lot of contact from both teams, but we are delighted to be in the final." On what a gold medal would mean for the country: "It would mean so much to us as we have two chances of gold this weekend, with the handball team as well. We will all go together for the handball match tonight (semifinal France vs Croatia) and then prepare for a tough final."


Spain edges USA and will play for fifth place

Three-goal hero Felipe Perrone steered Spain into Sunday's fifth-place men's play-off with an 8-7 victory over the United States at the Water Polo Arena on Friday. Perrone is one of the class players of London 2012, lifting his tally to 15. He scored one of his customary counter-attack goals, for which he is the tournament's leader, and netted his third for 8-6 inside the final minute with a shot that rebounded off the crossbar and the back of USA goalkeeper Merrill Moses' head. Spain shot to a 3-0 lead, led 3-1 at the quarter, 5-2 at halftime and 6-4 after three quarters.

The euphoria of watching the USA women win gold on Thursday night did not seem to flow over to the Beijing 2008 silver medallists. Big man Jeff Powers scored twice and fellow centre forward Ryan Bailey turned a flying pass into a goal 20 seconds from time to put pressure on Spain, to no avail. Moses saved 10 shots and Inaki Aguilar (ESP) nine, while both teams netted two from six on the man-up plays.

The first quarter belonged to Spain as they got out to a 3-0 lead early before the United States broke through with a tally from Beaubien at the 1:08 mark of the period. Spain still led after the first period by a count of 3-1. In the second the USA started to battle back with a power play score from Powers for a 3-2 game. Spain answered with consecutive goals and took a 5-2 lead into halftime.

In the third, the United States began to chip away once more. Tony Azevedo (USA) hit on a power play goal for a 5-3 game with 5:20 left. Two minutes later, it was Adam Wright (USA) finding the back of the cage to make it 5-4. Spain answered with a power play goal of their own with 1:28 remaining and took a 6-4 lead into the fourth.

Early in the fourth, it was Powers again hitting from outside to close back to within a goal at 6-5. Spain responded with a score only to see Beaubien add his second of the day at the 5:12 mark of the game to make it 7-6. Team USA could not complete the comeback as Spain added a match clinching power play goal with :43 to play for an 8-6 lead. Ryan Bailey (USA) got inside to put home a goal with :20 left closing to within 8-7, but Team USA ran out of time and Spain came away with the win 8-7.

The USA fell to Spain 8-7 in the semifinal of the 5th-8th place bracket at the 2012 Olympic Games. Jeff Powers (USA) and Layne Beaubien (USA) each scored twice to pace the offense for the USA. The US will play in the 7th place game on Sunday where they will meet the loser of Hungary and Australia.

The USA went three for seven on power plays and did not attempt a penalty while Spain was also three for seven on power plays and also did not attempt a penalty.

USA head coach Terry Schroeder (USA) On USA's performance in the tournament:  "The expectations were high, but it didn't happen. The boys are very disappointed as they have made big sacrifices. We have to keep fighting. Some of the players are leaving, we are going to lose experienced players, but new ones are coming. There is also a need for a new coach as I'm probably leaving as well." On the domination of the tournament by European teams: "It is amazing. Three former Yugoslavian nations are fighting for the medals. They are physically very strong and that made it dangerous for us, for Australia and for the others. We have to figure out how to deal with that."  

USA player Tony Azevedo (USA) on the importance of the classification matches after losing in the quarterfinals: "We know we've screwed up. These two games aren't anything really to learn from. The only thing it does is create more chance of injury. It might be a chance for some of the younger guys to play." On his hand injury: "I just hurt it following through on one of the Spanish guys' heads." Jeff Powers (USA) on getting motivated for the game: "It is a little bit hard playing after our quarterfinal loss. When you've had your Olympic medal dreams crushed, it's hard. We did want to be out there and we didn't want to go out like that. If we had played the whole game like we did towards the end, maybe we could have won." 

Spanish head coach Rafael Aguilar (ESP) on how the Spanish players bounced back from their quarterfinal defeat by Montenegro: "Athletes are usually stronger after they have managed to stand up from a fall. Our players did just that. We asked them to forget that defeat and rise for the occasion. They are great personalities so they were ready and you could see that during this match. Everyone arrives a bit tired to this stage of the tournament and it's even harder for those teams who lost their chances of a medal in the quarterfinals."

Spanish player Albert Espanol (ESP) on his team's performance: "It was a good game for us.  We were always leading and we are happy with the result. Every game is important. It is an Olympic Games so we have to try to do our best." Spanish player Daniel Lopez (ESP) on their performance so far: "we're not happy about the quarterfinal loss. We are playing well and we wanted medals, but now we have to play for the highest possible position." Spanish teammate Felipe Perrone (ESP) on how much they want to win on Sunday for a fifth place finish:  "We can't fight for the medals, but we will fight until the end. It is the Olympic spirit."


Hungary drops Australia to advance to match for 5th place

Hungary beat Australia 10-9 in a rough round of 5-8 men's semifinal at the Water Polo Arena on Friday. It was the second time in two Olympic Games that Hungary had beaten Australia by a single goal. At Beijing 2008, Hungary went on to win gold but at London 2012, Hungary go to the play-off for fifth against Spain on Sunday.

Five players failed to see out the game with three on suspension and the other two collecting three major fouls. The match turned especially difficult after halftime as fists flew and Australia were heavily fouled. Then the refereeing swung Australia's way and Hungary started to gain fouls. Australian captain Sam McGregor, who scored twice in the first half, had an altercation with Hungarian centre forward Balazs Harai behind the play midway through the third period and were both suspended for misconduct. Australia gained a yellow card for noise on the bench, which is not tolerated, as the teams entered the final quarter with Hungary 7-6 ahead.

Earlier, Hungary led 4-1, but Australia enjoyed a 5-1 spell to go 6-5 up before the Hungary levelled for 6-6 by half-time. Thomas Whalan on extra-man advantage and Tim Cleland from close to halfway had the game at 8-7 favouring Australia. Australia went ahead again at 9-8 but the experience and skills of Hungary came to the fore as captain Peter Biros and Norbert Madaras both scored their third goals to take Hungary to victory at 1:10 left on the clock.

After a timeout, Whalan went for a big shot off a five-metre free throw and was called up for pushing off the defender. In frustration, he shot the ball and was suspended for misconduct, effectively finishing the match. To Australia's credit, they came close with just three from 10 chances on man-up compared to Hungary's seven from a disproportionate 17 fouls.

Australian head coach John Fox on being so close to defeating Hungary: "We just fell short. It seems we lack experience in the last crucial minutes of matches. Maybe that is a process we have to work through." On whether Australia is improving: "Oh yes, the team has improved since Beijing 2008. We were close to the Olympic gold winners (Hungary) tonight, we're up there, but we're still missing something in the last quarter."

Australian player Sam McGregor on the match: "A loss is a loss. We played well, but it didn't go our way. We can't blame the refs. We missed shots that we probably wouldn't normally," and on whether they had the same energy as they had in the quarterfinal: "The energy was there, whether we're playing for fifth or the gold. It definitely wasn't as physical as in the quarterfinal."  Australian teammate Thomas Whalan on the match: "We did everything we could and gave everything we had. When you are up against the three-time Olympic champions, you know it's going to be hard, but we stood up to the challenge." 

Hungarian head coach Denes Kemeny on their struggle after taking a 4-1 lead in the beginning:  "Being three goals up, the players just eased up a bit too much and after Australia started to take the lead, they had to find a way to bounce back." On recovering from the loss to Italy in the quarters: "If someone expects you to play as if nothing happened, one doesn't understand sport at all. Still, they are fine athletes and have known it's an Olympics match so they must be up to the task. I think we could have won by a much larger margin, had we finished them off in the early stages after 4-1."

Hungarian player Norbert Hosnyanszky on thinking about the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro: "I am only 28, so I believe I have time for the next Games as well. I would like to be there," and on thinking why this Olympic Games was a bit more difficult than the previous ones: "I think there are many other good teams here and they finally brought their levels up to ours."  Teammate Peter Biros on the game against Australia: "The start was really good and we kept pushing and didn't give up." On playing for fifth place on Sunday: "I am really sad as we didn't come here to play for fifth place. We played for ourselves and we played for the Hungarian fans as they are such good supporters. I really hope that we can win the next match and finish fifth."


SCHEDULE FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 12th: 

Classification Round for 7th & 8th places:  USA - AUS

Classification Round for 5th & 6th places:  ESP - HUN

Bronze Medal Match:  MNE - SRB

Gold Medal Match:  CRO - ITA