July 15, 2003
Barcelona, SPAIN - The U.S. men's water polo team made a strong opening day statement at the 10th FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, playing 2003 European champion Serbia and Montenegro to a 5-5 tie at Club Natacio Barcelona.
The U.S. got to business early on, going ahead 1-0 on a natural goal from six meters out by team captain Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York Athletic Club/Ethnikos Piraeus) with 5:29 to go in the first quarter, but the European champs answered back on the next possession on a goal by Danilo Ikodinovic. Serbia and Montenegro center Vladimir Vujasinovic caught USA goalkeeper Brandon Brooks (Honolulu, HI/UCLA/Los Angeles Water Polo) off balance to net a goal at the 4:08 mark to give his team a 2-1 lead. Chris Segesman (Santa Barbara, CA/Long Beach State/Los Angeles Water Polo) buried a pass from Jesse Smith (Coronado, CA/Pepperdine/Malibu Water Polo) at 2:51 to even it up at 2-2, but Serbia and Montenegro star Aleksandar Sapic took advantage of a 6-on-4 situation next time down tank, going high nearside past Brooks to make it a 3-2 game.
The tempo of the game slowed to start the second quarter, with both teams getting most of their work done in the half-court offense. Serbia and Montenegro ended the brief offensive drought with 3:24 to go on a skip shot goal by Predrag Jokic. Wigo connected for his second goal of the day with just over a minute to play in the half, burying a player-up goal after Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo/JUG Dubrovnik) drew an ejection at set.
In the third quarter, Jeff Powers (San Luis Obispo, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo) came from beneath two defenders in the hole and netted a turnaround goal to tie the game at 4-4. With 3:01 on the clock, Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Stanford Water Polo) buried a counterattack goal to give the U.S. its first lead since early in the first quarter. Serbia and Montenegro drew even on an extra-man score by Ikodinovic, his second of the game, with 1:36 on the clock.
The score was tied at 5-5 heading into the fourth quarter. Neither team was able to muster many good looks at the goal, with defense ringing in as the main theme in the final frame. A few big saves by Brooks and a pair of field blocks highlighted the final minute and with under 10 seconds left to play, Bailey was able to rattle off a backhand goal, but an offensive foul negated the score, as the U.S. settled for the 5-5 draw.
"The call probably could have gone either way," said Bailey of the play. "But looking at the ejection count (9-SMN, 5-USA), we didn't get many chances from the referees today anyway. It's a disappointing. I think we probably deserved to win that game. We played better than the other team, but what can you do?"
The U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic was also displeased with the officiating, but was thoroughly pleased with his team's efforts.
"At this moment, I'm not very happy with the referees," he said. "But the team is good, they were very disciplined and they've worked extremely hard and it really showed out there today."
Serbia and Montenegro had outscored the U.S. by a combined score of 23-8 in the last two meetings between the two teams. However, both of these games were played not long after Rudic-style, marathon-length workouts.
"I think everyone, including Serbia and Montenegro, can see how good we really are when we're rested," said U.S. driver Omar Amr (Fullerton, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo). "And now they know that we're entirely capable of beating them."
The U.S. will be back in action in a 12:00 p.m. game against Japan on Thursday (July 16).