Joy in Gwangju! USA Men beat Australia in FINA Water Polo Group Play, Will Face Greece Next

cupido-fina-jun18
USA's Luca Cupido comes up big in Group B win over Australia. Photo Courtesy: FINA

Editorial content for the 2019 World Championships coverage is sponsored by FORM Swim Goggles. See full event coverage. Follow FORM on Instagram at @FORMSwim #swimwithform FORM Swim-Logo

Behind an inspired performance by Luca Cupido, who scored three goals, including the game-winner with a minute to play, the USA men’s water polo team beat Australia 12-11 to finish second in Group B play at the 18th FINA World Water Polo Championships. With the victory, the Americans move on to a cross-over match against Greece, a 9-3 loser to Serbia in a match earlier in the day at the Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center in Guangju, South Korea.

The win ensures that head coach Dejan Udovicic’s squad will improve on their performance in 2017 at FINA Worlds, when they finished a program-worst 13th.

fina-gwangju-jul19A key contributor for Team USA was Hannes Daube, who bounced back from dismal shooting performance in a 17-7 loss to Croatia, where he tallied a lone goal on ten attempts. The young attacker doubled his output from Tuesday, as he netted two scores against Aussie goalie Joel Dennerley, including a six-meter strike three minutes into the final period that put the U.S. ahead 11-10 and helped set the stage for Cupido’s heroics.

[On Day Four of FINA World Water Polo Championships, Croatia Dominates USA]

Johnny Hooper also scored twice, as did Alex Obert, who connected on both of his attempts, the first of which gave the Americans a 3-1 lead early in the match. Alex Wolf was respectable goal for Team USA, recording six saves, with his defense helping him greatly in keeping Joe Kayes, the massive Aussie hole set in check. Kayes, who is listed at 6-5, 275 lbs, scored twice on four attempts, but Obert, Ben Hallock and Jesse Smith took turns preventing Kayes from establishing position in front of the U.S. goal.

hooper-cal-may19

There’s few like Johnny Hooper, shown playing for Cal. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Aidan Roach and Andrew Younger also tallied two goals for the Stingers, but Younger and Andrew Ford both missed with less than a minute remaining and their team trailing by one. Dennerley made 11 stops but had difficulty with American sharpshooting as Cupido (twice) and Daube scorched him from six meters out.

Udovicic and his players have little time to savor their success; on Sunday, they will take on Greece—2:30 a.m. EST / 11:30 p.m. PST (July 20). The match will air live on Olympic Channel and can be streamed by clicking here The worst the U.S. can do at this tournament is 12th, but there is a path to a ninth place finish, which would represent Team USA’s best finish since a earning seventh place in 2015.

Greece is a dangerous opponent which the U.S. has not faced since 2016, when they came away with a 17-16 shootout win on the strength of four goals by Cupido.

[USA Men’s Water Polo At 2019 Pan American Games: Look Out for Brazil]

No matter what the results, the Americans have to buoyed by earning two wins in group play—especially important as—with the conclusion of play at the FINA Worlds—they travel from Gwangju to Lima, Peru for the Pan American games early next month, where they will look to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by capturing Pan Am gold.