ATHENS, Greece, August 23. Serbia and Montenegro's established early control and never let the USA develop any momentum, controlling through out to a 9-4 win, pushing America to the 7-10 place bracket.
According to reports from USA Water Polo, the Americans kept S&M’s outstanding offensive threat Aleksandar Sapic out of the scoring column for the entire first half, but had trouble containing the No. 3 world power's numerous other scoring threats. That firepower — combined with goalie Denis Sefik's performance in the cage for Serbia and Montenegro — kept Team USA from mounting a comeback and working its way into the quarterfinals. By game's end Sapic had three goals, and Serbia and Montenegro had a 9-5 win to move into the quarterfinals. Playing in front of a crowd of over 7,000 fans in the Olympic Aquatic Centre Main Pool for the first time, Team USA stayed close until Serbia and Montenegro worked ahead by going 4-for5 on power plays in the second half — three of which came from the hands of Sapic. The loss leaves Team USA in fourth place in its group, out of medal contention and within reach of a seventh-place finish at best.
"It's hard. We fell short of our goal, but we didn't feel short in preparing for it and doing everything that we could. We trained hard and did everything that we could do to win. We just played a better team tonight," U.S. captain Wolf Wigo said. "I think they're the best defensive team in the Olympics. No one is scoring a lot of goals against these guys. They have so much experience."
That experience struck early thanks to the first of 12 Serbia and Montenegro 6-on-5 opportunities. On the opening possession, it earned a 6-on-5 and put it away as the teams were pulling even. Aleksandar Ciric's goal put Serbia and Montenegro ahead 1- 0 just 40 seconds into the game. Another power play followed for Serbia and Montenegro on its next trip down. Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York AC) got a hand on the first shot, but no one could stop Danilo Ikodinovic's strike from the top, and Serbia and Montenegro was ahead 2-0. After on power play passed Team USA by, Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) ripped in a shot from the top, only to have Serbia and Montenegro's goalie Denis Sefik stop it. Omar Amr (Fullerton, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) was there for the rebound, however, and ripped in a backhand score from two meters to make it 2-1. A wild shot from Serbia and Montenegro resulted in its first failed 6-on-5 during the quarter, leaving the United States within one at 2-1 for the second period.
U.S. goalie Brandon Brooks (Honolulu, HI/UCLA/Los Angeles WPC) put a solid stop to Serbia and Montenegro's next man advantage with a resounding save, but was unable to keep a later strike from Dejan Savic out of the cage. The shot ricocheted around and squeaked across the line to make it 3-1 Serbia and Montenegro. A strong drive by Adam Wright (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/New York AC) helped open up 6-on-5 chance, but Sefik slammed down two U.S. attacks to hold the lead at 3-1. Serbia and Montenegro's sixth power play of the game was finished off quickly by Vanja Udovicic at 1:13 in the second quarter, but Team USA got it together for an answering strike. Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/ New York AC) drilled the ball in off a pass from Wright on a U.S. 6-on-5, and the teams went into halftime with the score 4-2 Serbia and Montenegro.
"They got a couple lucky shots and the ball started rolling," Brooks said. "Tonight they played more physical."
Almost half the third quarter passed by silently before Serbia and Montenegro's offensive powerhouse Aleksandar Sapic broke through with a crosscage 6-on 5 score to go up 5-2. Thirty seconds later, Team USA answered back on a power play bullet by Wigo on top. Unfortunately for the U.S. men, Serbia and Montenegro got up on a man advantage next, and this one was converted by Vladimir Gojkovic at 2:32 in the third. Sapic tallied goal No. 2 on yet another Serbia and Montenegro power play making it 7-3 with 49 seconds left in the period.
Trailing by four entering the final quarter, the U.S. men needed a rally. Instead, Serbia and Montenegro broke through first once again. Viktor Jelenic blazed in a backhand from two meters to pull ahead 8-3 with six minutes left in the game. Team USA earned an exclusion next, and Chris Segesman (Santa Barbara, CA/Long Beach State/Los Angeles WPC) delivered a crossing pass to Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport WPF) in front of the cage. The right-handed two-meter man switched gears and took the pass with his left, shoving it home to make it 9-5. Sapic struck again soon after, however. Nailing another 6-on-5 possession for Serbia and Montenegro to take back the four-goal edge at 9-5 with 4:55 on the clock.
"When I came to the U.S., I didn't think that we'd arrive at this level of preparation or that we'd be playing this well at the Olympic Games. Still, I wanted to do more here. I was hoping that we could get a good result. We had a close game against Hungary, the best team in the world and then had some mistakes early against Russia. We didn't have a
good game tonight. I'm not satisfied," U.S. coach Ratko Rudic said. "We didn't get the result that we wanted. We made some mistakes, sure. But after a few times of not getting some of the calls we thought we should have, things started to get worse and worse."
Television: 1:50 p.m. ET on NBC.
-box score to follow-
The U.S. men have a bye for the next round of play as they await the winner of Wednesday's (August 25) match between Kazakhstan (last in Group A) and Australia (fifth in Group B). That game will take place at 10:45 a.m. on Friday (August 27).
"For these next games, we just want to do whatever we can. It's hard, but we're going to get up for it and try to do our best," U.S. captain Wolf Wigo said. The airtime for the next U.S. men's game is still to be determined.
Today's Box Score
Serbia and Montenegro 2 2 3 2 – 9
Team USA 1 1 1 1 – 5
Serbia and Montenegro: Sapic 3, Ciric 1, Ikodinovic 1, Savic 1, Udovicic 1, Gojkovic 1,
Team USA: Amr 1, Smith 1, Wigo 1, Powers 1
Serbia and Montenegro: Sefik 11
Team USA: Brooks 5
Player Advantage Scoring
Serbia and Montenegro: 7 for 12
Team USA: 4 for 9
Referees: Erhan Tulga (Turkey), Sergio Borrell (Spain)
Delegate: Evgeny Sharonov (Russia)
Croatia 5, Kazakhstan 4
Australia 6, Germany 6
Spain 12, Egypt 4
Hungary 7, Russia 6
Serbia and Montenegro 9, United States 5
Greece 6, Italy 4
Final Group A Standings Win Loss Tie G.F. G.A. G.D. Points
Hungary 5 0 0 44 27 +17 10
Serbia and Montenegro 4 1 0 37 27 +8 8
Russia 3 2 0 32 28 +4 6
Team USA 2 3 0 33 37 -4 4
Croatia 1 4 0 35 41 -6 2
Kazakhstan 0 5 0 21 42 -21 0
Final Group B Standings Win Loss Tie G.F. G.A. G.D. Points
Greece 4 1 0 43 27 +16 8
Germany 3 1 1 50 28 +22 7
Spain* 3 2 0 35 31 +4 6
Italy 3 2 0 39 24 +15 6
Australia 1 3 1 37 35 +2 3
Egypt 0 5 0 18 67 -49 0
* Spain earns tiebreaker and advances with head-to-head win over Italy.