NAFPILO, Greece, May 28. THE U.S. men’s water polo team posted a 10-9 win over No. 4-ranked Greece in the last of a four-game series tonight (May 26) before 3,000 fans in Nafpilo, Greece. The victory gave the U.S. three wins in four games against the team that knocked it out of medal contention at last year’s World Championships.
The U.S. has been on fire since dropping the opening game of the series last Friday (May 21), 14-11. A more acclimatized U.S. team went on to outscore the Greeks 32-23 in the next three games.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago when Greece bested the U.S. in the quarterfinals of World Championships in a hard-fought, 4-2 game. The two teams were both frigid on offense, combining to shoot 6-for-46 in the game, but the Greeks got the win and went on to finish fourth in the tournament. Team USA later avenged that loss with a 6-2 drubbing of Greece at the FINA World League Super Finals in New York and has been in the driver’s seat ever since.
Tonight, the U.S. played Greece to a 4-4 tie in the first half, but the game was delayed early in the third when the teams became embattled in a skirmish in the pool. Both benches emptied to the site of the tussle. When it was all over, one U.S. player and one Greek player had been ejected. When play continued, the teams traded to take the score to 6-6. Team USA took the lead on a player-up score by Adam Wright (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/New York AC), but the Greeks came back to tie it at 7-7. USA captain Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York AC) netted his only goal of the game with 22 seconds left in the third to give the U.S. an 8-7 lead heading into the final frame.
Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore) buried a catch-and-shoot from the perimeter at 5:44 to give the U.S. a two-goal lead for the first time in the game, but Greece immediately reduced the deficit to one on an extra-man score on the next possession. Azevedo pushed the lead back to two at 4:41, but Greece countered again to make it 10-9 at 4:19. The U.S. held Greece scoreless over the remainder of the game. The finishing touches were put on by a Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) field block on Greece’s final possession, much to the delight of the groups of American school kids who were in Nafpilo for the event.
“This was a great, great game,” said U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic. “We are playing very well. These games with Greece were a great test for us. Now we move on to another big test in Russia.”
Team USA is raising a lot of eyebrows in the water polo world and Rudic is loving every minute.
“We have made huge progress in the last few years,” said Rudic. “We’re doing much better right now than I would have expected and I’m very happy with what we’ve done. We can compete with any team out there right now.”
Team USA will head north to Russia for the last leg of its international tour tomorrow (May 27), nestling itself in Moscow from May 28-30 for a four-team, Memorial Day weekend tournament. The impressive field of four includes No. 3 Serbia and Montenegro, No. 7 Australia, No. 10 Russia and the U.S. All four teams have qualified for this year’s Olympic Games.