BELGRADE, Yugoslavia, Aug. 22. THE US men's water polo team was defeated by Yugoslavia and Hungary in its first two games in the FINA World Cup.
Yugoslavia 9, USA 4
In the opener, the US lost to host Yugoslavia, 9-4, before an unforgiving crowd of over 4,000 spectators at the newly-renovated Tasmajdan Aquatic Center in
Fan whistles and a preponderance of boos stifled an already rough environment for the U.S. Team USA, which was held scoreless in the first half, went to 0-1 in preliminary play, while Yugoslavia (1-0) moved into an early first-place tie in Group A with Russia (1-0), which defeated Hungary (0-1) by a score of 7-6.
Yugoslavia, the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, led 2-0 after one quarter on goals by Aleksandar Sapic and Petar Trbojevic, and 4-0 at the half after a pair of goals by Danilo Ikodanovic.
"We actually played really good defense in the first half," said U.S. team captain Wolf Wigo. "But we just couldn't score."
Wigo netted the first U.S. goal, an extra-man score from outside with 4:54 to play in the third quarter, to cut the deficit to 4-1. Yugoslavia answered with three successive goals, including two by Sapic, to take its biggest lead of the game at 7-1 with 1:07 remaining in the period. Dan Klatt's man-advantage goal with under a minute to go in the third made the score 7-2.
Jesse Smith and Ryan Bailey both scored goals in the fourth for the U.S., but Yugoslavia's early momentum proved to be too much to overcome.
U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic refused to dwell on the loss following the game. "Today's game is overwith," he said. "Now we need to focus our energy into tomorrow's game."
U.S. driver/two-meter defender Jesse Smith spoke a similar lament. "We'll get 'em tomorrow," he said.
It was a bad shooting night for the U.S., which matched Yugoslavia in shots taken (21), but only managed to connect on four of them (19%).
Hungary 9, USA 5
Though the draw for the 2002 FINA World Cup was done at random, one might think that it was devised from a "How to Build a Better Bracket" workbook.
The USA men's water polo team, grouped with each of the medal winners from the 2000 Olympics, absorbed its second loss in as many days in Belgrade on Wednesday (August 21), this time to gold medalist Hungary, 9-5.
Team USA, while still proving itself to be one of the sport's most improved teams over the last year, found itself on the losing end against Hungary for the third time in the last four meetings between the two teams, and for the fifth time in the last six. The U.S. scored a convincing win over the Hungarians in their third FINA World League game last month in Moraga
(Calif.), becoming the only team to hand the reigning World Cup champs a loss in preliminary play. The Hungarians, however, have been in the driver's seat ever since, going 2-0 and outscoring the U.S. 19-9 in games at the Unicum Cup and World Cup.
Hungary has won two of the last three World Cups and three overall. A total of six medals (gold-3, silver-1, bronze-2) have been won by Hungary in the World Cup, now in its 12th installment. Team USA doesn't have a bad resume in the tournament either, having taken home a total of four medals, including two golds and two silvers. The last trip to the medal stand for
the U.S. came in 1997 after a win over Greece. Hungary finished third that year.
Today, Team USA took a 1-0 lead on an extra-man goal by Tony Azevedo with 4:55 to go in the first quarter. Tamas Molnar evened things at 1-1 on a goal with under a minute left in the quarter.
Ryan Bailey's goal early in the second quarter gave U.S. a 2-1 advantage, but Hungarian star Tamas Kasas connected on the first of two goals to tie it at 2-2 seconds later. Hungary's Tibor Benedek slipped one past U.S. goalkeeper Merrill Moses to give his squad a 3-2 lead and all the momentum heading into halftime.
Jeff Powers' goal with 5:49 to play in the third brought the U.S. to within one of Hungary at 4-3, but Kasas' second goal gave Hungary another two-goal edge at 5-3. Still within closing distance, the U.S. got a goal from Dan Klatt on a man-advantage to make the score 5-4.
But a four-goal fourth quarter was too much for the U.S. defense, as Hungary came away with the 9-5 win. Merrill Moses had a mind-numbing 18 saves in goal for the U.S., which was outshot, 34-17.
"We played a much better game today than we did yesterday against Yugoslavia," he said. "But unfortunately, we made some errors on offense that led to goals on their end. But I think we played with them the entire game."
USA utility man Jesse Smith attributes the competitive disparity to a difference in training.
"One of the biggest problems is that we don't have enough high-level, high-intensity games during the year," he said. "Ratko is working to correct that with the Premier League, American Water Polo League, and our World All-Stars tour, but the European teams have a very well developed club system and, since they're all closer together, it's easier for them to travel
Team USA move on to play Russia tomorrow in a 7:00 p.m. game (local Belgrade time). Russia took three of four from the U.S. in FINA World League play this summer.
United States 0 0 2 2 — 4
Yugoslavia 2 2 3 2 — 9
USA: Wigo 1, Klatt 1, Smith 1, Bailey 1
Yugoslavia: Sapic 3, Trbojevic 2, Ikodnovic 2, Ciric 1, Zlokovic 1
Man Advantage Scoring
USA: 3 for 7
Yugoslavia: 6 for 8
USA: Kerr 5
Yugoslavia: Kuljaca 8
Russia 7, Hungary6
Italy 6, Croatia 5
Greece 5, Spain 5
United States 1 1 2 1 — 5
Hungary 1 2 2 4 — 9
USA: Powers 1, Felix 1, Azevedo 1, Klatt 1, Bailey
Hungary: Fodor 3, Kasas 2, Vari 1, G. Kiss 1, Benedek 1, Molnar 1
Man Advantage Scoring
USA: 4 for 8
Hungary: 3 for 6
USA: Moses 18
Hungary: Szecsi 7
Yugoslavia 10, Russia 6
Spain 7, Croatia 4
Greece 6, Italy 6