BELGRADE, Yugoslavia, August 23. THE USA men's water polo team defeated Croatia 12-10 in the seventh place game at the 2002 FINA World Cup today, earning an appearance at next year's FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain.
The win was the first of the week for Team USA, who struggled through pool play with an 0-3 record, but it was the team's third win over Croatia in their last five meetings.
Qualification for Barcelona makes life a lot easier on the men's team, who would have had to finish in the top two in the ASUA (Amateur Swimming Union of the Americas) Cup next February in Calgary, Canada in order to gain a berth.
The USA men got off on the right foot against Croatia, taking an early lead on an extra-man goal by Layne Beaubien with 6:08 to play in the first. Teo Dogas of Croatia answered with a goal of his own on the next possession to tie the score at 1-1.
The U.S. took the lead at 2-1 when Jeff Powers converted on Wolf Wigo's lob pass over the defense at set with 5:22 to play in the quarter. Ratko Stritof scored the first of his three goals to level the score at 2-2 just seconds later and Hrvoje Herceg gave Croatia the lead on a man-advantage with 4:01 to go.
Jesse Smith connected from long distance and Wigo cashed in on another man-up situation before quarter's end making the score 4-4 heading into the second quarter.
Halfway through the second period, Wigo drew the team's first penalty of the tournament after finding inside water on a drive. Tony Azevedo, who scored two of his three goals on penalty throws, made good on the ensuing shot to give the U.S. a 5-4 lead. With 4:06 to play before the half, USA two-meter man Ryan Bailey found the net on a left-handed sweep shot from the
hole, giving his squad a 6-4 lead. Stritof again broke free for a goal at 3:38 to make the score 6-5, but Dan Klatt's extra-man score regained the two-goal lead for the U.S. Azevedo buried his lone goal from the field from eight meters out with 54 seconds remaining, as the U.S. led 8-7 at the half.
Croatia's Tihomil Vranjes evened the score at 8-8 in the third quarter, touching the nylon with a man-up goal at the 2:53 mark. But the U.S. captured the momentum for good on what looked to be a replay of the Wigo-to-Powers play in the first quarter. The two liaised on a similar goal to put Team USA up 9-8, and Powers scored another before the end of the quarter
to give the U.S. a 10-8 lead heading into the final quarter.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the U.S. leading 11-9, Wigo drew another four-meter penalty on a drive. Azevedo finished it off, and seemingly finished off the Croatians, who were unable to muster enough power to forge a significant rally.
"This was a very important game for us as it enabled us to qualify for the 2003 World Championships," he said. "It was a hard game, and even though we had the lead the entire time, the Croats had a lot of chances to score."
The U.S. was a bit consternated by the officiating all week long, but were satisfied with how tonight's game was called.
"Tonight's officiating was different," said USA captain Wolf Wigo. "They actually called exclusions. When we are permitted to move and the referees call the game according to the rules we can play with the best teams."
United States 4 4 2 2 — 12
Croatia 4 3 1 2 — 10
USA: Powers 4, Azevedo 3, Wigo 1, Klatt 1, Beaubien 1, Smith 1, Bailey 1
Croatia: Stritof 3,Herceg 2, Vranjes 2, Dogas 1, Frankovic 1, Milanovic 1
Man Advantage Scoring
USA: 5 for 10; 2 for 2 in penalty shots
Croatia: 5 for 7
Quarterfinal 1: Hungary 10, Greece 7
Quarterfinal 2: Russia 6, Spain 5
Tomorrow's Schedule – August 24, 2002
Game Time Team vs. Team
5th Place Game 7:00 p.m. Greece vs. Spain
Semifinal 8:15 p.m. Yugoslavia vs. Hungary
Semifinal 9:30 p.m. Italy vs. Russia
Men's Youth B Team Faring Well in Brazil
The USA Men's Youth B Team, which is participating in the first ever International Youth Water Polo Championship in Brazil this week, scored another victory over Brazil's B squad to run its record to 2-1-1 in the tourney.
Team USA got three goals from Brendan Colgan and five saves by Tom Hallet in the team's 10-6 win over Brazil B.
Thus far, the team has scored victories over France and Brazil's B team, taking a tie to Brazil A, and a loss to New Zealand. The team will move on to face Argentina tonight.