By Eric Velazquez
Humbert’s Overtime Mindbender Sends Croatia to Seventh Place Game
Sydney, Australia—Every water polo player takes their fair share of dings and dents. No one knows that more so than U.S. two-meter sensation Chris Humbert, whose battles in the trenches earn him a few more elbows and kicks than some. This week, Humbert has played with a sore wrist, although you couldn’t tell from the 10-meter rocket that he launched toward the net in USA’s classification game with Croatia on Saturday night (Sept. 30).
His low-flying, high-speed projectile ended up finding the back of the net at the conclusion of overtime play, sending the U.S. into tomorrow’s fifth-place match with Italy at 12:45 p.m. at Ryde Aquatic Center.
The U.S. had lost to Croatia, 10-7, in the opening game of the preliminaries and was eager to get back in the pool after a disappointing loss to Russia
yesterday. It was a see-saw game that saw Team USA squander three-goal leads on two occasions, including in the last quarter of regulation. But the two overtime periods proved to be just the remedy for what had ailed them. That, and some heroics from Humbert, of course.
The U.S. led 3-0 to start the game, but were caught at 3-3 with 5:29 to play in the third quarter on a goal by Igor Hinic. Humbert helped regain the American lead, burying a blind backhand from set a minute later on a pass from Tony Azevedo. Azevedo would add to that lead with 2:51 to go, triple pumping, then firing past Croatian goalkeeper Sinisa Skolnekovic on a 6-on-5
Insurance goals from veterans Chris Oeding and Gavin Arroyo early in the fourth quarter sent the U.S. up by three again, this time at 7-4. However, three unanswered Croatian scores caught the U.S. at 7-7 with 1:46 remaining in regulation. Neither team was able to convert for the duration, and the game went to overtime.
In the first overtime frame, Wolf Wigo netted his 15th goal of the tournament to give the U.S. an 8-7 advantage. It looked as if Team USA was going to be walking off with a win in the second overtime period, but a goal by Croatia’s Ognjen Krzic crushed that vision with nine seconds left.
Humbert then got the ball at midtank and subsequently met and fouled by a host of Croatian caps with 1.4 seconds on the clock. Realizing that he was above the seven-meter marker, meaning that he could shoot directly at the goal, Humbert swiveled and fired a bullet at Skolnekovic. He dodged it.
Humbert’s shot went high right and in, and the U.S. went home a winner. “It felt good,” he said of his last shot. “But I thought I was going to miss
it by the way it came out of my hand.”
The U.S. will now move on to play Italy in tomorrow’s fifth place game. “This was a good win,” said head coach John Vargas. “We let them back in the game a couple of times, but did what we needed to in order to win. Tomorrow, we’ll need a good 28 minutes of water polo to win.”
Around the Pool:
Croatia was one of two teams that was shorthanded on Saturday. Along with Italy, Croatia found itself suffering a personnel shortage after the FINA Bureau handed down five suspensions Saturday.
Italian coach Ratko Rudic, the famed coach who won three straight golds for two different countries between 1988 and 1992, was suspended for one year
for “bringing the game into disrepute.” This announcement was handed down as a result of Rudic’s confrontation with referees after his team’s quarterfinal loss to Hungary yesterday. Three of his players, Francesco Attolico, Roberto Calcaterra, and Alessandro Calcaterra, were also suspended as a result of similar actions following the game. Attolico, the starting goalkeeper and team captain, was given a one-match suspension, while brothers Roberto and Alessandro were handed four- and one-match suspensions, respectively.
Despite the absences, Italy won its classification match versus Australia, 8-4.
Croatian sensation Dubravko Simenc was also out of the pool against America tonight, having been slapped with a one-match suspension for a “post-match” incident following his team’s loss to Spain yesterday.
–USA’s Wolf Wigo scored three goals in the team’s win against Croatia on Saturday night, and is now second among the tournament’s scoring leaders with 15 total. Only Yugoslavia’s perennial scorer Aleksandar Sapic has more.
–The last time the U.S. met up with Italy was on August 4, 2000 in the Italian Trophy Tournament in Genoa, Italy. Italy won, 12-7, assisted by the absences of Wigo and Humbert, both of whom were sidelined by injury.
–Dan Hackett is still tops in goal in the save column. So far, the Irvine native has hauled down 66 of 121 shots faced. (54.5% efficiency)