Worlds Water Polo: U.S. Men’s Comeback Falls Short in Quarterfinals Loss to Hungary

Josip Vrlic of Croatia during the men match between team Croatia (white caps) and team Hungary (blue caps) at 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall B in Fukuoka (Japan), July 19th, 2023.
Hungary's Zoltan Pohl, right, battles with Croatia's Josip Vrlic in a group stage match; Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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Worlds Water Polo: U.S. Men’s Comeback Falls Short in Quarterfinals Loss to Hungary

A fourth-quarter rally by the United States men’s water polo team fell just short Tuesday in Fukuoka, the U.S. dropping its quarterfinal to Hungary, 13-12.

The loss eliminates the U.S. from medal contention. It will take on France on Thursday in a fifth-to-eighth place classification match.

The U.S. scored five of the game’s last seven goals. But a 4-0 run by Hungary between the third and fourth quarter gave it a big enough lead to advance to the semifinal, taking on Spain Thursday. Particularly back-breaking was a pair of goals by Gergo Zalanki in the final 2:15 of the third that, mixed with a turnover and an offensive foul, turned an 8-7 game into a 10-7 Hungary lead.

Tuesday’s game was a rematch of a thriller from last year’s Worlds, the U.S. beating Hungary, 11-10 (5-4) in a penalty shootout in the fifth-to-eighth semifinals. The U.S. finished sixth in Budapest, Hungary seventh.

Alex Bowen led the United States with four goals. Johnny Hooper tallied a hat trick. Adrian Weinberg made nine saves in net. The U.S. played well defensively, limiting Hungary to just 13-for-36 shooting. But the Americans didn’t do themselves any favors by going just 1-for-3 on penalty shots, Hungarian goalie Soma Vogel stoning the U.S. twice among his seven saves.

The teams were tied after one quarter, and Hungary held the U.S. scoreless for almost all of the second quarter until Chase Dodd’s goal after a double exclusion got the U.S. within 7-5 at the break.

Bowen and Dylan Woodhead scored on consecutive possessions to get the game within 7-all 90 seconds into the third. But Zalanki answered with a power-play goal, the first of three straight and one six markers for him on the day.

Krisztian Manhercz added a hat trick for Hungary. Adam Nagy made it 11-7 with 6:57 to play, and though Max Irving finally ended the run with a power-play goal, Toni Josef Nemet answered within 24 seconds to restore the four-goal bump.

Bowen scored a penalty goal, then on a power play, to get the U.S. within 12-10 with 4:33 left. But with Bowen in the box, Denes Varga answered to make it 13-10 with 3:54 left, his only goal on six shots.

Two empty American possessions meant that goals by Hooper in the final 2:19 were for naught. Bowen had a look with 37 seconds left and the U.S. up a man, but it was rushed at the end of the shot block and whizzed wide. The U.S. couldn’t get a look in the final 12 seconds, after Hungary stalled as much time as it could.

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