Winning streaks are to be halted at some stage but few would have guessed that the Brazilian team would defeat the Serbs at the Olympics, for the first time since July 2014, after 45 games. It happened, pushing Group A into further mess after Hungary had its third draw, this time against Greece. The other group saw the Italians prevailing against Montenegro in a tough fight while Spain soundly beat the title-holder Croatian team.
Game 1, 9.00 – Group A: Australia v Japan 8-6 (1-2, 2-1, 3-2, 2-1)
Referees: Xavi Buch (ESP), Joe Peila (USA)
AUSTRALIA: Joel Dennerley, Richie Campbell, George Ford, John Cotterill, Tyler Martin, Jarod Gilchrist, Aidan Roach, Aaron Younger 3, Joel Swift 1, Joe Kayes 4, Rhys Howden, Mitch Emery, James Stanton-French (GK). Head coach: Elvis Fatovic
JAPAN: Katsuyuki Tanamura, Seiya Adachi, Atsushi Arai, Mitsuaki Shiga 1, Akira Yanase 1, Atsuto Iida, Yusuke Shimizu, Yuki Kadono, Koji Takei 2, Kenya Yasuda, Keigo Okawa 2, Shota Hazui, Tomoyoshi Fukushima (GK). Head coach: Yoji Omoto
Australia: 4 for 10
Japan: 2 for 8
Just as in the previous matches – especially against Greece when they led by three before the last period but lost at the end – the Japanese could produce really fine spells only to fall into very deep holes soon after. It happened again, as they had a really controlled game for one and a half periods, led 1-3, then began to fade as the Aussies’ hard pressing defence virtually drowned them. Five straight goals came from Down Under, two in the second period, three more in the third, two from captain Aaron Younger, so it seemed that cruising time was there for the Aussies at 6-3. However, Japan produced another fine spell and after being shut out for 11:28 minutes, they came back for 6-5 before the final period with a man-up goal and fine action shot from Koji Takei. However, the fourth saw Australian dominance and the former New Zealander, Joe Kayes decided the outcome by netting two more great goals (he scored half of his team’s total), one from the centre and one from the field for 8-5. In the remaining 2:16 minutes the Japanese pulled one back but could not come closer and with three straight defeats they seem to be out of the contest for the quarter final berths.
Game 2, 10.20 – Group A: Greece v Hungary 8-8 (1-2, 1-1, 4-2, 2-3)
Referees: Mark Koganov (AZE), Nenad Peris (CRO)
GREECE: Konstantinos Flegkas, Emmanouil Mylonakis, Konstantinos Genidounias 2, Ioannis Fountoulis, Kyriakos Pontikeas, Christos Afroudakis, Evangelos Delakas, Konstantinos Mourikis 1, Christodoulos Kolomvos, Alexandres Gounas 2, Angelos Vlachopoulos 3, Stefanos Galanopoulos (GK). Head coach: Theodoros Vlachos
HUNGARY: Viktor Nagy, Gergo Zalanki 1, Krisztian Manhercz, Balazs Erdelyi 1, Marton Vamos 1, Norbert Hosnyanszky 1, Adam Decker, Marton Szivos, Daniel Varga 1, Denes Varga, Gabor Kis, Balazs Harai 3, Attila Decker (GK). Head coach: Tibor Benedek
Greece: 3 for 9
Hungary: 3 for 12
Greece: 1 for 1
Hungary chose the Portuguese way – at least this is how their fans wish to look at the team’s performance so far which is very similar to the European champion football team’s journey which also began with three ties in the prelims. Perhaps the Hungarian players see the happenings from a different perspective, at least they seemed utterly disappointed to lose another point in the dying seconds of the game. They led in the last minute but their respective opponents managed to score at the end – sometimes at the very end. Times remained from the matches when the equalisers were netted: by Serbia: 0:04sec; by Australia: 0:26sec; by Greece: 0:05sec.
The most recent clash with the Greeks was another hard-fought battle, few goals, great defending, disciplined execution of game plans, high tensions – we are at the Games, after all. The Magyars led 3-2 towards the end of the second period, had three 6 on 5s later to go 4-2 up but missed all, and two possessions were enough for the Greeks to go ahead, scoring twice in 54 seconds. And soon they were 5-3 up, while the Hungarians went through some struggling and suffering. Still, a quick response gave them the breath of life and they managed to respond once more immediately after 6-4.
The reward came early in the fourth when two action goals put the Magyars ahead once more at 6-7. Luck took over in the next minutes, Konstantinos Genidounias’s shot hit the post, then bounced in from the goalie’s head, then Marton Vamos’s shot was covered by the Greek netminder but slipped in from Konstantinos Flegkas’s hands. Hungary was 7-8 up with 2:18 to go, soon they denied a Greek man-up but wasn’t too convincing in offence even if a rebound gave them a full minute in the other half. Still, 37 seconds remained when the Greeks had a last chance and after a time-out the capitalised on it, Angelos Vlachopoulos just beat the buzzer from a free-throw and saved the match for a tie. This means that the Greeks, the Hungarians and the Serbs only had draws in the games played with each other.
Theodoros Vlachopoulos, head coach, Greece
“We had an 8-7 win, two draws, if I don’t die here in Brazil at poolside because of all the excitements than I will live forever. Today we had another great game, I do think we kept the match under control for most of the time. That’s why it was great to score that last second goal because it’s always disappointing to lose a game where you play well.”
Tibor Benedek, head coach, Hungary
“Of course, we are disappointed and I see bitterness and fury in my players’ eye but this is not the way they have to handle this situation. This is the Olympic Games, where you must believe in yourself, even after three draws. Only those teams can prevail where the will, the belief never weaken. We have to prepare even harder, we have to have an even stronger mental approach for the matches and that would bring its result.”
Game 3, 11.40 – Group B: France v United States 3-6 (1-1, 0-4, 0-0, 2-1)
Referees: German Moller (ARG), Adrian Alexandrescu (ROU)
FRANCE: Remi Garsau, Remi Saudadier, Igor Kovacevic, Enzo Khasz, Romain Blary, Thibault Simon, Ugo Crousillat 1, Michal Izdinsky, Mehdi Marzouki, Mathieu Peisson 1, Petar Tomasevic, Alexandre Camarasa 1, Jonathan Moriame (GK). Head coach: Florian Bruzzo
USA: McQuin Baron, Thomas Dunstan, Benjamim Hallock, Alex Obert, Alex Roelse, Luca Cupido 1, Joshua Samuels 3, Tony Azevedo, Alex Bowen, Bret Bonanni, Jesse Smith 1, John Mann 1, Meryll Moses (GK). Head coach: Dejan Udovicic
France: 1 for 7
USA: 3 for 12
USA: 1 for 1
It wasn’t a game forever remembered for sparkling attacks, still, the teams produced great value in true fighting and effective defending. The US side was clearly better, all in all, though the French took the lead after six minutes, only 3:06 remained from the match when they could score once again. In the meantime the Americans hit six and shut out their rivals for exactly 26 minutes. McQuin Baron was brilliant in front of the US cage, he had 11 catches on 14 shots for 78.8%, a fantastic saving percentage. Joshua Samuels enjoyed a great game with two fine action goals and one from a penalty, he was the hero of the match which put the French out of contest for the quarters as this was their third defeat in as many games.
Tony Azevedo, captain, USA:
“We have had two good wake up calls in our first games. Today we came out with a win and a solid win. We weren't there offensively but we played to our strengths which is defence and counter attacks. We stayed united and we played as a team. We came out focused on defence. I think a lot of times you come into the Olympics you want to score and hear the fans cheer. You get overwhelmed by all the individual sports going on around you and you want to be like them. In the end though, all that matters is playing like a team. We've never been an offensive team. Defence is what feuls us.”
Ugo Crousillat, player, France:
“In two days when we play Spain, we will give it our heart, our brain and our balls, we will give it everything. The Olympics is not like any other competition. There is a lot more pressure. This is the first time for France (men's water polo team) in the Olympics in 24 years. We need more experience.
We are not finished. We need to win two games, so we will try to beat Spain and Croatia. They are amazing teams, but we are not here to lose every game. We trained very hard to get here and we want to win games.”
Game 4, 13.00 – Group B: Montenegro v Italy 5-6 (1-2, 1-1, 0-1, 3-2)
Referees: Peter Molnar (HUN), Georgios Stavridis (GRE)
MONTENEGRO: Milos Scepanovic, Drasko Brguljan 1, Vjekoslav Paskovic, Antonio Petrovic, Darko Brguljan 2, Aleksandar Radovic, Mladan Janovic, Uros Cuckovic, Aleksandar Ivovic 1, Sasa Misic 1, Filip Klikovac, Predrag Jokic, Zdravko Radic (GK). Head coach: Vladimir Gojkovic
ITALY: Marco del Luongo, Francesco di Fulvio 3, Niccolo Gitto, Pietro Figlioli 1, Andrea Fondelli, Alessandro Velotto, Alessandro Nora, Valentino Gallo 1, Christian Presciutti 1, Michael Bodegas, Matteo Aicardi, Nicholas Presciutti, Stefano Tempesti (GK). Head coach: Alessandro Campagna
Montenegro: 2 for 12
Italy: 4 for 12
Italy: 1 for 1
Italy grabbed the lead from a 6 on 5, the Montenegrins missed two in succession then Francesco Fulvio’s long range blast found the back of the net, Italy led 0-2 and that determined the rest of the match. The Montenegrins chased their rivals but could never bring the score to even. Alexandar Ivovic opened the scoring for them still in the first but it was the Italians who netted the following goal in the second (even if they missed a 6 on 4). Darko Brguljan made it 2-3 from action but later they failed to score from back-to-back man-ups, missed two shots in 15 seconds. Almost three minutes into the third di Fulvio was on target again from an extra (2-4), that was the lonely hit in these eight minutes as the Montenegrins missed another 6 on 5.
Sasa Misic opened the scoring in the fourth with a fine centre-goal but di Fulvio came again to net the following man-up. Though the first three periods saw only six goals, here four were netted in a span of 103 seconds, still, the gap remained two between the sides (4-6). The Italian defence worked pretty well in man-down once more as they denied another one, and the struggling Montenegrins could only score one late by Darko Brguljan when only 1:31 were left from the match. A rebound helped the Italians to stay on their rivals’ half longer but Montenegro still had a last possession with 34 seconds remaining, but fine block prevented them from saving a point.
Valentino Gallo, player, Italy:
“We aren't thinking ahead. The Olympics are different to other tournaments. They have strange results and every match is played with the intensity of a final. Every team is very strong and we just have to prepare to fight with everybody.”
Matteo Aicardi, player, Italy:
“We are incredibly satisfied because Montenegro is one of the strongest teams in the tournament, and this is one of the biggest steps in the preliminary round for us. I hope we get the same result in the next two matches.”
“This was a very tough match and we knew it would be before it started. They have a lot of physical players. We are not big like them but we played very well on defence and we beat them because of this.”
Mladan Janovic, player, Montenegro:
“The Olympics is a very long and a tough competition, so every game gets harder. We lost the game and we are a little bit sad but we have more to play in the group. We cannot get first because of this loss but we will go in search of second or third place. We don't have time to improve anything. This is what you prepare for. This is it.”
“We had a very good defence and we only allowed six goals today. But we are having difficulties with our attack. I think this is maybe where we need to sit down and discuss things.”
Game 5, 19.30 – Group A: Brazil v Serbia 6-5 (0-2, 3-1, 2-0, 1-2)
Referees: Benjamin Mercier (FRA), Ni Shi Wei (CHN)
BRAZIL: Slobodan Soro, Jonas Crivella, Ruda Franco, Ives Alonso, Paulo Slaemi, Bernando Gomes 1, Adrian Baches 1, Felipe da Costa, Bernardo Rocha, Felipe Perrone 1, Gustavo Guimaraes 1, Josip Vrlic 2, Vicinius Antonelli (GK). Head coach: Ratko Rudic
SERBIA: Branislav Mitrovic, Dusan Mandic 1, Zivko Gocic, Sava Randelovic 1, Milos Cuk, Dusko Pijetlovic, Slobodan Nikic 1, Milan Aleksic, Nikola Jaksic, Filip Filipovic 1, Andrija Prlainovic, Stefan Mitrovic 1, Gojko Pijetlovic (GK). Head coach: Dejan Savic
Brazil: 0 for 9
Serbia: 4 for 8
Brazil: 1 for 1
People says that water polo is one of the team sports where a well defined circle of teams usually takes the upper hand – they win tournaments, medals but above all: matches. Underdogs can have some slight chance but usually the big boys prevail, even if they had a bad day. However, the Rio Olympics produced the shock of the century: host Brazil managed to beat the Serbs, something which proved to be a mission impossible for the strongest sides in the past two years in 45 matches at the major tournaments.
It all began as it was anticipated, the Serbs put away two man-ups in the first period and led 0-2. Even if Josip Vrlic, a former Croatian national player, netted one in the second, another fine shot in a 6 on 5 from Dusan Mandic restored the world champions’ lead at 1-3. 4:07 remained from the second period here... To see the Serbs being unable to score in the following 15:09 minutes was never in the cards, not in anyone’s wildest dreams. But exactly that happened. Well, Brazil’s head coach, the great magician imported from Croatia, Ratko Rudic knew really well that he had to strengthen his team in two key positions: in the goal and in the centre, so he brought in Vrlic and goalie Slobodan Soro. Soro played together with most of the rivals’ players for years, won world titles with Serbia – and at the age of 37 he has tremendous experience which helped him to come up with 13 saves on 18 attempts for 72.2% – this is the key in any win against the Serbs. Upon their last defeat, the Hungarian goalie, Attila Decker posted 69% in the prelims at the 2014 Europeans.
Back to the game, still in the second quarter, the hosts managed to score from attacks where the 6 on 5 wasn’t finished inside the 20 seconds but the ball was sent home in the remaining timeframe. In the third the Serbs’ misery continued, Bernando Gomes’s blast from the distance gave the lead for Brazil and it was doubled with 24 seconds to go when Vrlic scored from the centre (5-3). Between the two, the Serbs missed a man-up and Soro and the defenders denied their action shots as well.
Of course, the world champs weren’t done, they overcame three-four goals deficits against Hungary and Greece. This time they trailed by two but they dug deep and after killing a Brazilian extra, Stefan Mitrovic netted their 6 on 5 and 76 seconds later Slobodan Nikic finished off a dying man-up to go even at 5-5 with 3:42 minutes remaining. Enough time to win the game in this sport – but this evening it was the Brazilians, who made it. Even if the Serbs survived two man-downs, a penalty shot decided the match later, with 46 seconds to go, as Gustavo Guimaraes didn’t miss the golden opportunity. Dusko Pijetlovic’s attempt from the centre was covered by Soro with 27 seconds from time and the home side kept the ball during the last possession. Wild celebration erupted at the end, and one would hardly believe his or her eyes: after three rounds Brazil tops the ranks in Group A with three wins and enjoys a two-point advantage. Next comes Greece, then Hungary – in other occasions it would have been regarded an easy one for the favourites, but there is nothing to do with that last word any longer in this group.
Gojko Pijetlovic, player, Serbia:
“I don’t really want to say how I feel right now. We lost to Brazil, of course they surprised us. This is a big surprise. We had the game in our hands after the first quarter and I thought we would win. We have to analyse the game as well as the whole tournament as we haven’t played well.”
“Maybe the gods will smile on us from now as since we came here we have only had bad luck. I hope we come back stronger and we have to be smart with how we continue. We have to win our next two games if we want to do something here.
“I also hope we will have more luck in some moments as we didn't score when we needed to tonight. There is a long way to go but we have made it as hard as possible for us now. It wasn't our plan to fight for third or fourth place in the group.”
Gustavo Guimaraes, player, Brazil:
“I swam to the ball and when I got the ball I said to myself, 'I train to do this every day, I know how to do it, I need to be with a good head and to put it inside the goal'. I was happy I was able to do that, it was amazing. But this is not the work of one day, this is the work of all the past three years we've had with (coach) Ratko”
“The most important thing is the defence and the team work. We also want to say thanks to all these people (in the crowd), they were like another player for us in the water.”
“The most important thing is to qualify for the quarterfinals and we can always go forward. We need to keep going, every game. Ratko is the best coach in the world, he has won everything. He said we need to do our best and we can always do better – but doing better than tonight is a little bit difficult.”
Felipe Da Costa, player, Brazil:
“When you beat Serbia, you have to think about what's just happened because they are so strong, they are Serbia. We are so happy, so proud to play like that for this crowd, they are amazing. It was crazy, really crazy. I cannot explain it. We have to say thank you to everybody in the crowd, it was another show and we are together.
“We didn't expect a result like that but we expected a tight game. Ratko told us before the game to always play until the end – strong, strong, strong – it's always the same and in the end see what happens."
Game 6, 20.50 – Group B: Spain v Croatia 9-4 (0-2, 3-1, 2-0, 1-2)
Referees: Boris Margeta (SLO), Radoslaw Koryzna (POL)
SPAIN: Dani Lopez, Alberto Munarriz, Marc Roca, Ricard Alarcon, Guillermo Molina 1, Marc Minguell 1, Balazs Sziranyi 1, Albert Espanol 1, Roger Tahull, Francisco Fernandez 1, Blai Mallarach, Gonzalo Echenique 4, Vicente Aguilar (GK). Head coach: Gabriel Hernandez
CROATIA: Josip Pavic, Damir Buric, Antonio Petkovic, Luka Loncar, Maro Jokovic 1, Luka Bukic, Marko Macan, Andro Buslje 1, Sandro Sukno 1, Ivan Krapic, Andelo Setka, Javier Garcia 1, Marko Bijac. Head coach: Ivica Tucak
Spain: 0 for 6
Croatia: 0 for 9
Croatia: 0 for 1
Croatia arrived to the match after fine wins over the USA and Montenegro while Spain also beat the US team but lost to the Montenegrins. And this time the Spaniards did a brilliant job: they took a flying start, went 2-0 up in two and a half minutes and defended really well. Blocks saved their goal in two man-downs and early in the second Dani Lopez stopped Sandro Sukno’s penalty and a minute later Gonzalo Echenique’s fine left-handed shot put his side 3-0 ahead (what a difference compared to 2-1).
It took them 13:41 minutes to open the scoring, Sukno netted one from a dying man-up late in the second but another great action shot from Echenique secured a 4-1 lead for half-time. Again, long minutes gone before the Croats could pull one back for 4-2 in the 21st second of their man-up play but couldn’t come closer as their next 6 on 5 didn’t work, instead, Echenique netted one for 5-2. An immediate answer from Maro Jokovic gave some hope for the Croats for the last period but there a quick exchange of goals – three came in 55 seconds – restored Spain’s three-goal lead and when Sukno’s next attempt landed in the post in a man-up, the Croats looked hopeless. Echenique’s fourth goal of the night decided the outcome and it turned into a bad five-goal beating for the title-holders.