ATHENS, Greece, August 28. IT will be the classic immovable object against an irresistible force quandary when the Men’s Water Polo game for gold gets going.
2004—USA team captain Wolf Wigo (New York,>NY/Stanford/New York AC) called it earlier in the tournament. “Serbia and Montenegro is the team’s best defensive team and Hungary is the best shooting team.”
So, as reported by USA Water Polo, on Sunday (August 29), the sport’s two hottest teams, with their biggest strengths at opposite ends of the scoreboard, will clash in a highly anticipated gold medal game.
Hungary, who offed rival Russia 7-5 in a semifinal, will be looking to become the first team to capture consecutive gold medals since Ratko Rudic’s Yugoslavian teams did it in 1984 and 1988.
Standing in the way of the repeat performance will be Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia), who capped off pool play with a 9-4 win over the U.S. and breezed into the final with a win over No. 4-ranked Greece.
Hungary is a team riddled with returning Olympians. Nine players from the golden squad in Sydney dot coach Denes Kemeny’s roster, including international sensation Tamas Kasas, who poured in three goals in Russia and is tied for second in the tournament with 12. One of Hungary’s main weapons is its use of its trio of deadly lefties Gergely Kiss, Tibor Benedek and Norbert Madaras on the 6-on-5. Thus far in the tourney, these three have combined for 19 of Hungary’s 51 goals. But moving away from the southies, Hungary suffers no shortage of capable goal scorers. Peter Biros, Tamas Molnar and Rajmund Fodor all find plenty of ways to rattle the cage.
Serbia and Montenegro may present more defensive obstacles in the Olympics than any other team, but it has also been able to slice through opponents on the arm of Aleksandar Sapic. Sapic is the top goal scorer at the Games with 16 goals in seven games. And he’s not afraid to shoot either. Sapic has made 17 more attempts at the cage than any other ranked scorer, keeping his shot percentage at 33%, and is nine goals better than the next highest scorer on his team. Danilo Ikodinovic has touched the net for seven goals thus far for Serbia and Montenegro.
When the two teams met in preliminary play, Hungary rallied late to post a 6- 4 win.
In the bronze medal game, Russia will face off against Greece. Russia, the silver medal winner at the Sydney Games, features a returner-heavy roster. Eleven players from that squad helped Russia go 3-2 in pool play, but Hungary was just too much to handle in the semi. Center Revaz Tchomakhidze, who leads all players at his position with 11 goals scored, is the key component of the Russian attack but Alexander Eryshov has also provided plenty of outside punch with 10 goals, including three in a 9-7 win over the U.S. Goalkeeper Alexander Maksimov has proven himself to be a wall in the mouth of the cage, stopping 51 of 85 shots faced (60%).
Greece was easily one of the most improved teams in the world in the last two years, but won’t get the chance to play for gold in front of its home crowd. Coach Allesandro Campagna, a former assistant to Ratko Rudic in Italy, has raised the Greek game to new heights. A fourth place finish at last year’s World Championships started Greece on a good roll, but unfortunately, the last stop on the way to the Olympic gold medal game ran through Serbia and Montenegro. A 7-3 loss in that game put Greece into a play for bronze. Greece is led by center Georgios Afroudakis and marksman Ioannis Thomakos but it’s the team’s rough-and-tumble style of play that has been at the heart of the team’s performance at the Olympics.
Azevedo: Shooting Star
For the last four years, Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore) has drawn repute as one of the game’s most feared shooters. He has a vast repertoire of shots that he can use well, he’s a great swimmer, and he has great field vision, great instincts and an unearthly ability to change his arm angle mid-shot to get around would-be shot blockers. Azevedo, the leading scorer in the 2003 FINA World League and the second highest goal scorer at the 2004 FINA World League, enters Sunday’s seventh place game with 12 net-ticklers under his belt. He is tied for second with Tamas Kasas of Hungary and has only been outgunned by Serbia and Montenegro shooting fiend Aleksandar Sapic (16), but Sapic has also played one more game than Azevedo. Azevedo has connected on 12 of 26 attempts and has scored three goals in a game on two occasions at the Olympics, including this morning against Australia. He is also tied with five other players for most goals from seven meters or beyond with two.
>Gunning for Seventh
Team USA’s men will face Italy in Sunday’s seventh place game at the Main Pool of the Olympic Aquatic Centre at 10:45 a.m. Italy, ranked No. 2 in the world after its silver medal performance at last summer’s World Championships in Barcelona, tied with Spain at 3-2 in its bracket but missed a shot at advancement because it had lost its head-to-head with Spain. Italy rebounded to beat Croatia in its classification game to earn its meeting with the U.S.
U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic coached Italy to a gold in 1992 and a
>bronze in 1996 but is intent on knocking them down to eighth place here in Athens. Italy defeated the U.S. 11-10 in a game in Salerno (Italy) back on January 27, but the U.S. took the 7-6 win in a game just three days before that in the first meeting between the teams since before Rudic came to the U.S. in 2001. The two teams have not tangled since.
>No television coverage of the match has yet been scheduled.
>There have been plenty of good games at the Athens Olympics. Some great last- second goals, some remarkable comebacks, and some huge defensive stops. But while the goal scorers are the ones that will get all the cool replays on the news, it’s the goalkeepers that have made the world go round in this tournament.
The red-cappers have provided some of the most thrilling moments with their post-to-post, bar-to-bath explosiveness. Some goalkeepers have fared better than others and there have been a few that would probably rather just tuck these Olympics away in a dark, dark place and not speak of them again.
Here’s a look at some of the notables from the cage in Athens: Hardest Working Goalie?: Kazakhstan’s Alexandr Shvedov has definitely had his work cut out for him. Kazakhstan, one of the least experienced teams in the entire field, has had some holes in its defense. The 6-foot-6, 21-year-old goalie has faced 111 shots in seven games, second most in the tournament. He’s fared well, stopping 54 of them for the second-highest total thus far. Only Russia’s Nikolay Maksimov has more (55). Shvedov, however, likes to get his hands dirty with defense like his buddies, as evidenced by his tournament-best 13 steals coming out of the goal. Maksimov is next in that category with eight.
Just Duck: Egypt is making its first appearance at the Olympics
>the 1960s. As the African qualifier, the Egyptians have had to deal with huge disparity in skill and experience in its nearly all-European bracket (Australia-Oceania). Through its seven games, Egypt allowed 135 shots at the goal, making things interesting for cagekeeper Mohamed Amr. At that rate, Kevlar might be just as good of an investment as earguards.
>Brooks on Track: USA goalie Brandon Brooks (Honolulu, HI/UCLA/Los Angeles WPC) stepped out of the shadows of international obscurity at last summer’s World Championships and has been on fire ever since. At his first Olympics, Brooks has done well, knocking down 47 of 89 shots faced (52.8%). His 47 saves are fourth-best in the tournament and he is one of only five goalkeepers to have assisted on a counterattack goal. Brooks has played all 168 minutes in the net for the U.S. in the tournament.