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Water Polo: US Men Advance to Top 8 -- July 26, 2001

FUKUOKA, Japan. July 26. ALTHOUGH they lost to Croatia, 11-5 today, Team USA beat Australia on goal difference for the fourth position in their bracket. The team now will play for fifth through eight, but more importantly, the USA has qualified for the 2002 World Cup.

"Our objective coming into this tournament was to qualify for the 2002 FINA World Cup, which is the first step toward qualifying for the 2004 Olympic
Games," said Head Coach Ratko Rudic. "Today, we accomplished that mission."

Australia, which had been winless in the bracket entering today¹s match, upset the Netherlands, 6-5, throwing the USA, Netherlands and the Aussies into a three-way tie for fourth place in the bracket with 5 points. The first tie breaker, under FINA rules, is goal difference (the difference between points scored for and against) and the USA was one better than
Australia.

The USA could have assured advancement to the five through eight round and 2002 World Cup with a win over Croatia. However, the USA came out flat while Croatia had all cylinders firing. Croatia jump out to a 5-1 first quarter lead and never looked back.

"We didn't play very well," said Acting Head Coach Rick Azevedo. "We created a lot of extra-mans and must have hit the wood nine times. We also missed a
penalty. It's a simple game. You have to create situations and execute those situations. Today we created but we couldn't execute."

"It is clear that we can match up well in every way with the best teams in the world," said USA head coach Ratko Rudic," except one area. Experience. This was the first major international experience for many of our players.

In Europe, players are playing meaningful games every week in the professional leagues. Our path is clear: We must solve this problem of a lack of regular high level competition in the United States to be
competitive."

Team USA rests Friday and plays Hungary on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (Japan time) The winner will play for fifth place while the loser will play for seventh. Hungary, the reigning Olympic Champion, lost to Italy, 3-2 and was knocked out of the final four for the first time since 1994.

Notes: Azevedo scored his 9th and 10th goals of the tournament, putting him three shy of scoring leader Ricardo Perrone of Brazil.

Other World Championship scores: Germany beat Japan 10-6, Brazil crushed Canada 10-3, Greece edged Slovakia 4-2, Yugoslavia dominated Kazakhstan 16-6, Australia topped the Netherlands 6-5, Italy beat Hungary 3-2, and
Spain slipped by Russia 9-8.


Box scores 1st 2nd 3rd 4th F
The USA 5 2 2 2 11
Croatia 1 3 0 1 5

Scorers
The USA 5 (T Azevedo 2, R Bailey 2, W Wigo 1)

CRO 11 (I Ivanis 4, M Oreb, T Dogas, M Smodlaka 2, S Letica)

Power Plays
The USA 1/8
Croatia 4/5

Play by play

Croatia's Ivo Ivanis scored 3 three goals in the first quarter before Azevedo put Team USA on the board with a natural goal at 1:18 to play. Ivanis scored his fourth and final goal of the game just before the buzzer to end the first quarter, 5-1.

Team USA bounced back in the second. Wigo scored three minutes into the quarter and squeezed the Croatian lead to 5-2. Croatia answered back with a power play goal after taking a time out.

In the final 2 minutes of the first half, Bailey came on strong. He scored at 1:33, on a power play. Croatia responded with their own power play goal 40 seconds later, only to be matched by another Bailey goal, ending the quarter 7-4.

Croatia added two quick goals at the beginning of the third period and two more in the fourth to pull ahead 11-4. Azevedo scored a natural goal with forty seconds left, but the damage was done, and Croatia won 11-5.