Men’s Water Polo: U.S. Knocked Out of Medal Contention

By Eric Velazquez

Americans Lose 11-10 Heartbreaker to Russians

Sydney, Australia—The Americans’ hopes for gold were effectively swept under the carpet on Friday in an 11-10 quarterfinal loss to Russia before 3,700 fans at Ryde Aquatic Center. The loss knocks the U.S. out of medal contention, a fifth place finish being the highest finish now possible. The U.S. finished seventh in 1996.

It was a hard-fought and physical game, with the teams exchanging leads several times. However, the games last few minutes were marred by some questionable officiating, negating an otherwise entertaining contest. With time winding down in the fourth quarter, Tony Azevedo and Chris Oeding had broken away on a U.S. counterattack, with Azevedo on the lead. Oeding,
who had the ball, was swarmed by two defenders with just over 40 seconds to go and passed to Azevedo on the left wing. Azevedo then swam the ball up, only to be hammered inside of two-meters with open water ahead of him, which normally warrants a penalty call. But the whistle never came, and Russia recovered the ball.

That decision, or lack thereof, was even more puzzling, considering that the officials had called a penalty for a lesser offense and less of an advantage
two minutes earlier. The call resulted in a goal and an 11-9 Russian lead. “I definitely thought there was a foul to be called,” said Azevedo. So did the hundred or so American fans who were not shy about expressing
their displeasure. Officiating aside, the U.S. can now finish no higher than fifth in the tournament, a particularly painful disappointment after the Atlanta Games.

“We were optimistic and looking forward to playing a great game,” said driver Wolf Wigo. “But some of us just didn’t play that well at all. It’s an extreme disappointment.” Team captain Chris Oeding knows, however, that there are still games to be played and that the Olympics are hardly over. “A gold medal is no longer an option for us, so now we want to finish as
high as possible,” he said. “Our goal now is to get fifth place.”

After trailing 3-0 at the end of the first quarter, the U.S. roared back to even the score at 3-3, scoring the first three goals of the second quarter. The 3-0 run took all of 2:12 and it looked as if the U.S. had finally put things together. As it was, the teams would swap leads two more times over
the course of the game, passing each other at 6-6 and 7-7. Back to back goals by Wigo midway through the third quarter gave the U.S. a 7-6 lead, but the Russians went on to score the next three and led, 9-7, to start the fourth quarter.

Azevedo’s hat trick goal early in the fourth pulled the U.S. to within one at 9-8 with 5:59 to go in the game, but Russia answered back a minute later on a goal by Alexandre Erychov, his third of the day. Wigo converted on the Americans’ next possession to make the score 11-9.

With 2:37 to play, U.S. two-meter defender was called for a penalty even though he was between his man and the goal. Erychov buried the resulting throw from four-meters, giving Russia the 11-9 lead.

The U.S. will play tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. against the winner of the Spain-Croatia game. The victor in that contest will advance to the fifth place game on Sunday at 12:45 p.m., while the loser plays for seventh place at 11:30 a.m.

Number Crunching:
The Game:
5 Number of extra-man goals scored by the U.S.
2 Number of extra-man goals scored by Russia
3 Number of first quarter goals by Russia
0 Number of first quarter goals by the U.S.
3 U.S. leading scorer Chris Humbert’s assist tally versus Russia
21 Shots faced by U.S. goalkeeper Dan Hackett
4 Number of exclusions drawn by the U.S. in the fourth quarter
1 Number of extra-man goals by the U.S. in the fourth quarter

The Tournament:

18 Age of U.S. driver, Tony Azevedo
12 Number of goals scored by Azevedo in this, his first Olympics
12 Number of goals scored by U.S. driver Wolf Wigo
5 Rank of Wigo and Azevedo in tournament’s scoring leaders’ column



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