Water polo (M) final day - Croatia captures first Olympic gold medal

London 2012 Water Polo

The legend continues as Ratko Rudic guided Croatia to their first Olympic gold medal with a comprehensive 8-6 victory over Italy at the Water Polo Arena on Sunday. For Rudic, it was a record fourth gold medal as a coach, let alone silver as a player in 1980. Rudic guided Yugoslavia to gold in 1984 and 1988 and Italy in 1992 and now his native Croatia at London 2012. Croatia enjoyed a silver medal at Atlanta 1996 soon after independence but now rise into the hall of champions with a dominant performance built on three Maro Jokovic goals, a 3-2 half-time advantage and 5-3 at the final break.

The victory and the lack of goals against Croatia during the fortnight can also be attributed to the tournament's finest goalkeeper, Josip Pavic (CRO), who was named London 2012's most valuable player. Joining Pavic in the all-star team was Niksa Dobud, the tournament's pre-eminent centre forward. Jokovic scored twice in the fourth for a handsome 7-3 lead. It became 8-4 with just over three minutes remaining, a chasm Italy could not bridge. Christian Presciutti (ITA) accepted a cross pass on counter attack to narrow the margin to 8-5 but the game crawled to an end with only Maurizio Felugo (ITA), selected to the all-star team, failing to accept defeat, sending in a shot from near halfway on full time for 8-6.

By then the Croatians were celebrating and the traditional enforced swim by the staff sent the pockets of Croatian fans into hysteria. Rudic's opposite, Sandro Campagna (ITA), looked unhappy with the result and the chance to beat his coach when he won Olympic gold with Italy at Barcelona 1992. Both teams scored four goals on man-up situations with Croatia having seven attempts and Italy 10. Croatia beat Italy 11-6 in round play and it was no surprise that the result was repeated in front of a crammed arena. Not only had Rudic made history, but Sandro Sukno (CRO) can now look his father, Goran, in the eye as Olympic champion equals. Goran Sukno won his gold with Yugoslavia in 1984.

Italian head coach Alessandro Campagna on winning silver: "Today we played an amazing match. We played at about 99 per cent. Croatia is not an easy team. We didn't finish our opportunities in attack and some small details didn't work out. This made the difference. It's a pity."

Italian player Stefano Tempesti on his team’s play in the final match: "We played a great final after so many years. All credit to our opponents. Many congratulations to my teammates. No one would have bet on this group a couple of years ago. We made a lot of sacrifices and it has paid off." On what went wrong: "We needed to be more focused on the most important moments of the match. We were not able to face their comeback. We lost focus in attack and in defence, and we were not able to react. Croatia is a fantastic team." 

His teammate Maurizio Felugo on earning the silver medal: "We are very pleased with silver, however there is a slight element of disappointment as we dreamed of gold, but we are a young team and we have only been together for three years. We will be back in Rio (2016 Olympic Games)." On the overall experience of the Games: "Hungary and Croatia were the hardest games (Italy played) and there seemed to be an element of tiredness within this last game. Congratulations to Croatia." Another teammate Valentino Gallo on playing against Croatia: "We are really happy, though slightly disappointed as well, because we were dreaming of gold. We have played our best." On playing against Croatia in the final and against 2008 gold medallists Hungary in the quarterfinal: "Hungary was a very difficult game, however, Croatia is physically very strong.”

Croatian head coach Ratko Rudic on his team’s victory: "The gold medal is the reward for our high level of play. We had eight wins out of eight matches. I can't remember any Olympic tournament where the winner was so dominant. This is a result of hard work by a team who spend days and nights analysing the opponents with great enthusiasm." On whether he is going to continue coaching Croatia: "I will try to stay with the Croatian team, as I'm at my home in Croatia, but we will talk with the officials."

Croatian player Miho Boskovic on his team’s win: "Amazing. It's the best feeling ever. I still don't know what we did. The first period was not so good, but later we played well." On how they will celebrate: "Very hard.” His teammate Niksa Dobud on where the match was won: "It was a huge match like every final, but our defence was incredible again today.”

Sandro Sukno (CRO) on following in his father's (Goran Sukno (YUG), Olympic gold medallist at Los Angeles 1984) footsteps: "It's a great feeling and a great achievement to come to the Olympics, let alone win the gold medal. He has called me to congratulate me and he is even happier than me, since I can't realise what we have achieved. A nation of only four million people has won six Olympic medals (at London 2012). Not many countries can say that."

The London 2012 Olympic All Star men's water polo team of the tournament, as selected by members of the media:
 
Goalkeeper: Josit Pavic (CRO)
Centre forward: Niksa Dobud (CRO)
Centre back: Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE)
Field: Maurizio Felugo (ITA)
Filip Flipovic (SRB)
Felipe Perrone (ESP)
Andrija Prlainovic (SRB)


Serbia roars back to defeat Montenegro for Olympic bronze medal

Serbia survived a last-quarter, three-goal deficit and a rash of major fouls and red cards to beat Montenegro 12-11 to win the men's bronze medal. Both Serbia's lead coaches were ejected from the pool deck inside the final minute, something that could have been critical if the match had gone to extra-time as it seemed it would.

The final few minutes were more like a basketball match with the breaks - referees trying to take control of bench players who were jumping and screaming and keeping players apart in the water. Head coach Dejan Udovicic (SRB) gained the third red card of the match when he did not return to his line after a restart when Serbia took the lead through captain Vanja Udovicic with 55 seconds remaining. It had been only back in the second quarter that Serbia briefly had the lead twice. Serbia's assistant coach Dejan Stanojevic gained his second red card of London 2012 when he illegally advanced down the pool deck with 16 seconds left.

In the water, emotions rose to boiling point and captain Vanja Udovicic (SRB) and Milan Aleccic (MNE) each received a red card. Montenegro twice hit the frame of the goal in the dying seconds, then the ball fell to Vladimir Gojkovic (MNE), who snapped the ball into the net amid a crescendo of noise that muffled the final siren, but the ball was still in his hand so the goal was disallowed.

Serbia had won the bronze medal in one of the most chaotic Olympic matches in recent history, and they did it with five players not finishing the match and rudderless on the pool side. Serbia led the first quarter 3-2 and Montenegro were 5-4 up at half-time. The margin went 10-8 up for Montenegro and 11-8 early in the fourth before Serbia, still smarting at not taking home gold, shot back into the game.

Aleksandar Ivovic top-scored for Montenegro with three goals, finishing the match prematurely on three major fouls but not before finishing the tournament with 19 goals. Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) was held to one goal for a tournament high 22. In the massive foul count, Serbia scored six from 13 on man-ups. Montenegro netted six from 17.

At Athens 2004, Serbia & Montenegro, competing as one NOC, won the silver medal. Montenegro head coach Ranko Perovic on the match: "I can't find the words to describe my feelings. We have done everything that we had to do, but we lost a three-goal advantage. I don't know how to describe that. I'm very distraught, I'm sorry I can't say anything more."

Player Vladimir Gojkovic (MNE) on the loss: "It was all of our own fault. We are better than this, but we choked. Our belief that we could win got lost, however, I'm proud of the team and we will be back." Milos Scepanovic (MNE) on the result: "We came here for a medal, so it is disappointing. Matches against Serbia are always hard. This game was a question of concentration, Serbia played better in this atmosphere. Differences are very small between the teams, they had probably more luck, that's it."

Serbian head coach Dejan Udovicic on coming back from being three goals down: "These guys are good people. Strong-minded, true athletes." Asked whether he is relieved after earning a medal: "I will only be relieved if we win the gold in Rio (2016)."

Serbian player Nikola Raden on winning the bronze medal: "First of all, it's unbelievable. These games are too much for one athlete, but great for a whole team to play. I'm just proud to take a medal back home to my people." Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) on winning the bronze medal: "Incredible. It's been a very long trip to the bronze medal. At some moments it looked like we couldn't manage, but in the last few minutes we didn't suffer any goals. This bronze medal is shining like a gold for us."


Hungary destroys Spain to capture fifth place

Hungary tore apart Spain 14-6 to finish what for them would be a disappointing fifth place in the men's competition at the Water Polo Arena on Sunday. The match probably saw the last on the Olympic stage of Hungarian triple gold medallists Tamas Kasas, Gergely Kiss, captain Peter Biros and goalkeeper Zoltan Szecsi.
 
It definitely saw the last of 41-year-old Ivan Perez (ESP), who was circled by his teammates in the water as they cheered his career, which started with Cuba at Barcelona 1992 and continued with Spain at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Cuba failed to qualify for 1996 and he was not allowed to play for Spain at Sydney 2000.
 
It was more about the farewell than the match, but Hungary's stars wanted to go out with a win, even though it was only one position better than Hungary's worst effort - sixth at Barcelona 1992. Hungary struggled all tournament, losing to Serbia and Montenegro in the rounds and then the 11-9 quarterfinal loss to Italy before a scrappy 10-9 win over Australia. In the final match, all the stars performed and Hungary led 4-1, 7-3 and 12-4 at the breaks.
 
The final minute was savoured by both teams as they declined to play and just held the ball to kill time. Hungary scored 98 goals at the tournament and Norbert Madaras top-scored with 18 for Hungary. Felipe Perrone was Spain's best, also with 18 goals. Hungary were efficient on extra-man plays, scoring five from six. Spain had to settle for four from 13.
 
Spanish head coach Rafael Aguilar on whether he is happy with the outcome of the tournament: "I'm happy with the way we were playing, but I would be happier if we had won our quarterfinal match." On what the future holds for Spanish water polo: "The average age of our team will go down since one of our players (Ivan Perez, 41 years old) is retiring. Anyway, there is new talent coming up."
 
Spanish player Albert Espanol was asked to evaluate motivation levels in classification matches: "When there isn't a medal to be won, it is harder to get motivated to perform at your best." On what went wrong today: "We have to play at 100% to be a good team. If we don't put 100% into our performance then we are weak. That's what happened today. Hungary is stronger and they wanted the result more than us." On how it feels to have played his final international match: "It feels very sad after 32 years playing. I have to say goodbye. It's very emotional." On being made captain for his final match: "Yes, it was an honour. I used to be captain, then I gave it up for the youngsters coming through. I didn't expect it, but they gave it back to me as a gift."
 
Hungarian head coach Denes Kemeny on finishing on a high note: "It was a match between two disappointed teams. I can recall the 2001 world championships, when we went through the same painful process, playing only for fifth. That was a struggle, but that time we had players in the middle of their careers. What made the difference today was that we had several great champions here who played their very last match for the national team and they wanted to bid farewell in style." On his and the team's future: "At this stage, let me have more time to think about that. This is the first time in my coaching career that I have to deal with an Olympic placement lower than the top. As for the team, a new chapter will start, it is for sure."
 
Hungarian player Tamas Kasas on ending his Olympic career in such a manner: "This is sport, we win three Olympics, but this time we were not the best team. It was important to win today as for many players it was their last match." On how the Hungarian team can recover: "It will be a long road, it will be difficult with a new team." His teammate Norbert Madaras on winning fifth place: "It is always important to win and we tried our best for the older players and for the fans." On a disappointing tournament for Hungary: "I am really sorry that we didn't manage to make it to the medal matches, this is not what we had planned at the beginning."
 

Australia tops USA for their best finish in 20 years, earning 7th place

Australia closed their Olympic campaign with seventh place, defeating the United States 10-9 at the Water Polo Arena on Sunday. It was Australia's best finish since fifth place at Barcelona 1992 and the Beijing 2008 silver medallists USA's worst since Tokyo 1964.
Australia got out early on the offensive end scoring the first goal of the match less than thirty seconds into the game for a 1-0 lead. The USA responded to tie the game at 1. After that the Australian team took control, leading 3-1 at quarter time, 5-3 at half-time and 8-4 at the final break. 
 
In the second Australia went up three goals, when they fired home a counter attack score ninety seconds in, for a 4-1 lead. The USA converted on a power play moments later to draw within 4-2. The teams continued trading goals as the Aussies scored on their next possession, on a power play, for a 5-2 lead. The United States would have the last word in the period with a power play goal from Tim Hutten (USA) off a rebound for a 5-3 game at halftime.
 
Australia extended their lead midway through the third quarter with back to back goals to grab a 7-3 lead, their largest advantage of the game. Tony Azevedo (USA) retaliated with a power play score at the 1:47 mark to reduce the deficit to 7-4. The green and gold had an answer with a power play score with just :16 left in the period to take an 8-4 lead going into the fourth. The final period saw the United States looking to rally and it started with an Azevedo power play goal just a minute in for an 8-5 score. Australia scored on their next possession to return to a four goal cushion at 9-5. Ryan Bailey (USA) fired home a score out of two metres for a 9-6 match with 4:09 to play but Australia came back with an outside score with 2:33 to play for a 10-6 lead.
 
Australia took the foot off the accelerator and gave up three goals in the last 71 seconds to flatter the USA. Azevedo was sent from the match seconds later on a game misconduct. The USA offense went on a run in his absence scoring three straight. Bailey (USA) and Peter Varellas (USA) hit on power plays and Jesse Smith (USA) connected from deep to draw within 10-9 with :17 left in the match. The USA was unable to get any closer as Australia ran the clock out and finished with a 10-9 victory.
 
Australia's power shooting from outside was needed as once again Australia were heavily penalised by the referees. USA converted six from 11 chances while Australia shot two from five. Billy Miller scored three goals from close to the goal and Richie Campbell struck with an extra-man goal just before half-time and two eight-meter monsters for 9-5 and 10-6.
 
USA captain Tony Azevedo scored twice - either side of the final break - but failed to see out the game for the second time at London 2012, being suspended for misconduct, the only player to gain two red cards. Bailey (USA) scored once to finish the leading USA shooter with 11 and Miller's (AUS) hat-trick gave him Australian honours with 13. The younger Australian team with an average age of 26 compared to USA's 32 - had more zest and desire and deserved a third victory.
 
USA head coach Terry Schroeder on what went wrong in the tournament (USA won their first three matches and lost the following five): "We had two rough weeks. We've never recovered from the losses to Serbia, Hungary and Croatia. We played a pretty good first game (against Montenegro), but there were signs against Romania and Great Britain which didn't look good. It's hard to figure out right now." On comparing this team with the silver medallist side of Beijing 2008: "We had a lot more confidence in Beijing, we had a lot more guys scoring and we had a balance in attack, but here we didn't have that confidence. We were hesitating with our shots and the six-on-fives weren't strong. Perhaps one piece is the pressure. We had more expectations and a lot of the guys saw this as their last chance. In 2008 the goal was to get back on the podium, this time it was winning the gold medal, so there was not a lot of margin for errors."
 
USA player Tony Azevedo on how it feels to finish eighth after winning silver at Beijing 2008: "It's hard for sure and keeps getting harder every day, but the future is bright and we need to stay positive. Eighth is definitely a failure, but we'll learn from this and hope the younger generation will build from the success in 2008." His teammate Jesse Smith on losing momentum in the tournament: "We lost momentum and then we never regained it. We focused too much on winning gold, rather than just performing at our best and letting the results follow."
 
Australian head coach John Fox, who was asked why he and his assistants were wearing formal clothing (shirt, trousers and tie) on the poolside: "We just want to show that we're enjoying the tournament. This is maybe the last international game for some of the guys and we want to make sure that they will enjoy it." On the tournament as a whole: "We were so close and we know that we can match the best teams in the world. Although the overall result (seventh) is disappointing, the improvements which we have achieved are satisfying. We should use this Olympics as a launch pad for the following years." On the European teams dominating the tournament: "Europe is where the water polo is played. We probably need more exposure in Europe."
 
Australian player Billy Miller on ending the tournament with a win: "It is always a relief to win the last game and end on a high, but we wanted to do that for the older boys in the team like Tom Whalan and Gavin Woods." On being Australia's top scorer in the tournament: "I had a bit of a shaky start and suffered from a little bit of nerves, but I cleared my head and focused and I am pleased with how I played." Australian teammate Sam McGregor on playing for Australia: "It's an honour to play in every game that I play for Australia and I always give it my best. Being able to play with these guys, it's a pleasure.”