US 8-Montenegro 7
The United States men’s water polo team got off to a great start in their first match Sunday, as they topped 2011 European silver medalists Montenegro 8-7. The men from Montenegro had the ball last with an opportunity to tie up the score, but was shut down by an American team that prides themselves on the quality of their team defense, and didn’t even get the potential match-tying shot off.
The United States defense, and especially goalie Merrill Moses, was tested in this opening match of group play for both teams. Montenegro outshot the Americans 31-18, but Moses stood strong in cage and was helped by 6 field-blocks. The American defense stands so strong as a result of 7-months training specifically as a team, which is particularly rare for American athletes as a majority of the professional opportunities are in Europe.
But they expect to improve upon their silver medal performance in 2008, and if they continue to play well the sacrifice will be worth it.
The American offense was led by Peter Varellas with a hat-trick, including two out of the last three. The team’s most popular player, Tony Azevedo, didn’t have a huge stat-line, but he did what leader’s do, and stepped up at the end of the match. He had an assist on the Americans’ 7th goal, and with :57 seconds left scored on a long shot to give the Americans a two goal lead.
That would ultimately be the game-winner, as Vladimir Gojkovic scored with :47 seconds left to pull Montenegro within one. Gojkovic had a very up-and-down game; he scored a big goal late, but was only 1-for-7 overall on shots. He also had two 20-second exclusion fouls (with three meaning permanent ejection from the match), but countered that with a pair of big steals. Another highlight for the Montenegrins was Aleksandr Ivovic, with a hat trick of his own.
This is a Montenegro squad on a bit of a down year, but still is a big-name team so this will be a confidence-builder for the Americans.
The United States’ next match is against Romania, who are competing in their first Olympics since 1996.
Serbia 14-Hungary 10
Otherwheres in group B, by far the more challenging of the two, three-time defending Olympic champions Hungary got off to an inauspicious start as they were knocked off 14-10 by their rivals from Serbia.
That is despite the Hungarians drawing 12 exclusion fouls to Serbia’s 6, a 2:1 ratio by the defending champions. The difference, though, is that the Hungarians only were able to score on 6 of those 12 man-up opportunities, and were only able to get off 9 shots. That’s as compared to the Serbians, who were much more efficient at 5/6.
Efficiency was the story of the match. Both teams took 31 shots, but Serbia was able to get four more goals out of their selection, and won despite Hungary largely dominating the time-of-possession.
Hungary also fell in love with 5-meter shots (if a foul is drawn more than 5-meters from goal, a player is allowed to take an immediate shot without first requiring a pass). Over half of their shots (18/31) were of this variety, but the Serbian goalie was dialed in and stopped 10 of the 11 that were on target.
Andrea Prlainovic led all scorers with 5 goals, including all three of Serbia’s goals in the 4th period.
Croatia 8-Greece 6
Leading scorers: Konstantinos Mourikis /Ioanis Fountoulis (GRE) 2; Three Croatians tied at 3
Spain 14-Kazakhstan 6
Leading scorers: Perrone Rocha (ESP) 5; Vladimir Ushakov/Sergey Gubarev (KAZ) 2
Italy 8-Australia 5
Leading scorers: Alex Giorgetti/Maurizio Felugo (ITA) 2; Each Australian goal was scored by a different player
Romania 13-Great Britain 4
Leading scorers: Nicolae Diaconu (Rou) 4; Rob Parker (GBR) 2
The women’s tournament will get underway on Monday.