By Bruce Wigo
BEIJING, China, August 14. SERBIA came into this morning's game against the Americans emotionally down from their crushing loss to Croatia, in the prior session. At the other end of the pool, coach Terry Schroeder believed his team was ready for an upset. Before the game, Serbia announced a change in their lineup that gave the Americans reason to believe. All-World goalkeeper Denis Sefik would warm the bench, replaced by Slobodan Soro, a keeper with little international competition. Today, Soro did his best imitation of Sefik, holding the US. to two goals in a 4 – 2 Serbian win.
The strategy for the Americans coming into the game was to hold Alexandar Sapic, widely regarded as the best offensive player in the world, to one or two goals. The American defense did that. And while Soro was brilliant for the Serbs, Merrill Moses was more spectacular. Soro was the beneficiary of at least half a dozen shots off the American hands that nipped the posts or crossbar, but for an inch, could have given the USA the upset they were hoping for.
The Serbs have always prided themselves on a strong defense and their early strategy was to neutralize American star, Tony Azevedo. Not only they keep Azevedo off the board, but only one player found the net for the USA, Peter Varellas.
In addition to Moses and Varellas, Jeff Powers played well for the US. With Serbia up 2 – 0, and 2:34 left in the first half, Powers drew a penalty, but Soro blocked the shot taken by Tony Azevedo. Then just before the intermission, Powers drew an exclusion that was converted by Peter Varellas, who scored his first of the tournament.
Serbia went up 4 – 1, before Varellas scored his second of the game midway through the final period. The US had several chances before the end, but just couldn't put the ball past Soro.
When the game ended, it was impossible to tell which team had won or lost. There were no hugs or high fives at the Serbia bench and the Americans were clearly depressed.
Next up for the USA is Croatia, which totally dominated the Germans in the first game of the morning, 13 – 5. Croatia came out with all cylinders firing. Seven different players scored and the team shot a remarkable 50 percent from the field. The USA needs at least one more win to insure a top six finish and chance to medal. The last time these two teams played, the USA came out on top. But that was an exhibition game and this is the Olympics. Team USA will have to play better than they did today if they hope to beat their old coach, Ratko Rudic.