Men’s Water Polo: U.S. Gallops into Quarterfinals with 9-3 Win Over Greece

By Eric Velazquez

Sydney, Australia—It wasn’t difficult gauging the USA men’s water polo tactics in its final semifinal match with Greece on Wednesday night (Sept. 27). While Greece may have been the only winless team left in the bracket, the U.S. was looking to ride some momentum into the quarterfinals where competition was bound to get stiffer. Mission accomplished.

The U.S. (2-3) easily glided past the Greeks, 9-3, advancing to Friday’s (Sept. 29) quarterfinals against Russia, the No. 1 seed in the opposite bracket. And according to U.S. head coach John Vargas, the team has traditionally matched up well with the Russians.
“We know Russia will be tough,” he said. “But we’ve always matched up well with them, and I expect it to be a good game.”

The U.S. got off to a quick start, thanks in large part to Dan Hackett’s goal play, which created good counterattack opportunities for his squad. Hackett, the 1996 backup goalie, collected five saves over the first two quarters, and finished with 10 on the day in three quarters played.

“I think that there is a huge link between us as field players and Dan in goal,” said U.S. team captain Chris Oeding. “When he’s playing well, it makes things easier for us defensively, and creates opportunities for us on offense.” The U.S. created on Wednesday…a lot.

Five different players chipped in to jockey the U.S. to a 5-0 halftime lead, the fifth goal coming from 18-year-old Tony Azevedo with two seconds remaining in the second quarter. Oeding and Wolf Wigo netted their second goals in the third quarter to push the lead to 7-0. But the fourth quarter belonged to Azevedo. Two more goals and a field block helped give the U.S. a 9-1 lead with 3:18 remaining in the game.

Greece finally got on the board against a laxing U.S. defense and backup goalkeeper Sean Nolan, who managed to stop two shots on goal in his Olympic debut.

“We got off to slow starts in the first few games,” said U.S. two-meter defender Robert Lynn. “But as the tournament’s gone on, we’ve gotten stronger, and I think we’ll play well against Russia…we always do.”
The U.S. will take on Russia in quarterfinal action on Friday (Sept. 29) at 2:30 p.m. at Ryde Aquatic Center.

Up Next for the U.S.:

Friday, the U.S. men’s water polo team will face Russia, who topped the standings in its bracket with a record of 4-1. Russia actually tied the standings with Italy, but Russia won out on goal differential, 51-43. Russia played tight games most of the way through preliminaries, tying Italy 7-7, beating Spain 8-5, and squeaking past Australia and Kazakhstan by two goals each. However, a 21-5 shellacking of Slovakia, needless to say, significantly bolstered Russia’s goal total heading into quarterfinals.

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