BARCELONA, July 24. THE U.S. men’s water polo team breezed into fifth place at the 2003 FINA World Championships at Club Natacio Barcelona in Spain today with an easy 11-5 win over Slovakia.
The U.S. dominated the entire way, leading by as many as eight goals, and now stands poised to make its best showing at World Championships since taking fourth in the 1991 games in Perth, Australia. The U.S. took seventh in the last two tournaments in 1998 and 2001.
In other games, Germany beat Romania 7-6 for 11th place; Croatia beat Russia 8-3 for ninth; and Spain edged Australia 10-8 in the classification for fifth through eighth.
Here's a quick rundown of each of the games:
USA 11, SLOVAKIA 5
Classification for 5th to 8th
Ryan Bailey opened up the scoring at 6:16 for the U.S., whipping around to score an extra-man goal at center immediately after an ejection on Slovakia. At 4:53, Jeff Powers took a cross-pass from Adam Wright and put it away from the right side to make it a 2-0 U.S. lead. Powers scored his second goal in as many possessions at the 3:25 mark, putting away a crowd-pleasing no-look pass from Jesse Smith in the low-right corner to make it a 3-0 game. Slovakia straightened out its zero at 2:05 when Gejza Gyurcsy skipped one past U.S. keeper Brandon Brooks, but Bailey’s backhand goal off of a Layne Beaubien entry-pass kept the U.S. lead at three goals heading into the next quarter.
Team USA cashed in on a pair of extra-man opportunities early in the second, with Wright and Tony Azevedo scoring goals after Slovakian exclusions. Team USA went up by a half dozen when Smith went high left and in at 4:23 after a steal by Brooks on the other end. Wright made it an 8-1 game on his second goal of the quarter in the final seconds, capping off a brilliant first half of play for the USA. Brooks had an impressive first half in the net, hauling down seven saves.
Slovakia ended a 5-0 USA run on a 6-on-5 goal by Robert Kaid at 4:53 of the third quarter, bringing the score to 8-2. Smith became the fourth U.S. player to post a multiple-goal game when he hit from five meters out on a counterattack at the 1:56 mark. The nightmare continued for Slovakia when Azevedo buried his second goal in the final minute of the quarter to make it 10-2, USA, heading into the fourth.
Slovakia drew first blood in the fourth quarter when Thomas Bruder found space in the left corner past an outstretched Genai Kerr at 6:04 to make it a 10-3 contest, and Jozef Hrosik made it 10-4 on an extra-man goal with 3:53 to go in the game. Team captain Wolf Wigo busted into the score column on the next trip down, skipping in a goal from six meters out to give the U.S. a seven-goal lead at 11-4. Bruder netted his second goal for Slovakia with just over a minute remaining to narrow the margin to six, but the U.S. held them there for the duration.
Brooks collected 10 saves in three quarters of work for Team USA and has continued to be one of the tournament’s most effective goalkeepers. “I feel like I’ve been doing my job, but I’m really only as good as the defense makes me look,” said Brooks of his performance in the cage. “And today, we were playing our kind of defense. We knew that the games after the loss to Greece were still really important. We were upset that we lost, but nobody is packing it in yet.”
U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic continues to be high on his young team’s performance. “We have played very well this entire tournament,” he said. “Against Greece, we played well, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the goal. Today, we continued to show that we are at a high level internationally and we feel like we should be among the top four teams here. But with our players only getting better and better, we still have the future.”
Team USA will face reigning back-to-back World Champion Spain in the fifth place game on Saturday, July 26, at 1:30 p.m. at Club Natacio Barcelona.
GERMANY 7, ROMANIA 6
Play-off for 11th & 12th
A player from the German second division club SSV Esslingen, Heiko Nossek, assumed immortality as his German team won the race for 11th over Romania. Nossek, seemingly unstoppable from the right-hand catch position at 8m, fired in five missiles with such accuracy that Romania will be viewing the tapes to see who was responsible for slack defense.
Romania led 3-0 until halfway through the second quarter. Then Nossek struck with his first two to trail 3-2 at halftime. Adrian Cretu took Romania 4-2 ahead. Germany replied twice for 4-4 and Cosmin Radu and Cretu saw Romania 6-4 up with 17 seconds left. Then Nossek converted again to level the game at 2:58 of the fourth and, after a timeout, who gets to shoot? Nossek. The winning shot came at 0:59.
CROATIA 8, RUSSIA 3
Play-off for 9th & 10th
Russia's demise was complete with Croatia outplaying the World Cup and World League champion of 2002. And the man responsible was Nikola Frankovic with four goals, three on extra man.
As the No 2 team in Europe and so close to winning the European championship last month, Croatia had the arsenal. Dmitri Gorchkov opened for Russia but Samir Barac and Frankovic ensured a Croatia lead the first break. Frankovic scored again for the Croatians and Irek Zinnourov for Russia made it 3-2. Frankovic scored his second extra goal for 4-2. Then Zinnourov took a penalty for Russia but hammered the right-hand top corner of the crossbar.
Frankovic made it 5-2 at 2:09 of the third and Revaz Tchomakhidze scored his eighth goal of the championship from center forward immediately after pulling an ejection. Barac on right-hand catch and Dubravko Simenc from the top middle had an unassailable lead at 1:43. Ratko Stritof completed the rout on extra at 0:35.
Russia has never before finished lower than seventh as Russia or the Soviet Union at World Championship level. Croatia was eighth in 2001 and ninth in 1998. Its best result is fourth in 1994, when it was beaten by Russia in the bronze-medal final.
SPAIN 10, AUSTRALIA 8
Classification for 5th to 8th
Spain may be bowing out of the championship but it's not going without a fight. Despite being even through the first half, Spain turned it on for the home crowd with four unanswered goals in the third period and then had to sustain a shark attack in the final period. Three of the goals came from Javier Sanchez-Toril off the same post on extra.
Spain scored twice to start the game but Australia scored two in the last two minutes. Guillermo Molina took Spain ahead on extra and then Australia unleashed a big shot from the top by Alexandr Osadchuk and one on extra from Pietro Figlioli, also from the top. Sanchez-Toril scored his second for 4-4 before halftime.
Then Ivan Perez with a slow-motion center-forward backhand goal, Daniel Ballart with a double-movement shot (he lost it in mid-air and then tapped it in a lobbing motion over the Aussie goalkeeper's head), Sanchez-Toril on extra and Salvador Gomez from two meters sent Spain 8-4 at the break.
Sam McGregor responded on extra for Australia on the first attack of the fourth. Ivan Moro sent one in from nine meters at the top and Tim Neesham replied on extra at 5:26 for 9-6 down. Ryan Moody, Australia, and Ivan Moro, Spain, were excluded for an altercation from the game soon after a penalty was awarded to Australia, which Osadchuk converted for 9-7.
An Australian timeout at 2:51 produced two blocked shots. Neesham scored on for the Aussies after swimming the length of the pool to make the score 9-8 at 0:14. Australian coach Erkin Shagaev called a tactical, illegal timeout when Spain was in possession but Gabriel Hernandez converted to extinguish Australia's chances.
(Courtesy: Fina & US Water Polo)