July 23, 2003
BARCELONA, SPAIN - The U.S. men's water polo team had its run at a World Championship medal halted by a surging Greek team, 4-2, at the 2003 FINA World Championships at Club Natacio Barcelona in Spain today (July 22). The U.S., undefeated in the tourney until today, can now place no higher than fifth in the tournament. A win over Slovakia on Thursday (July 24) would send the U.S. to a play for fifth, while a loss would put the team in the seventh place game.
The U.S. fell victim to some cold shooting against Greece on three days rest, going 2-for-22 in the contest. Things looked good for Team USA in the first quarter, but the Greeks tied together eight field blocks and seven goalkeeper saves to shut down the U.S. attack in the later quarters.
The U.S. got things rolling early when two-time Olympian Wolf Wigo (New York, NY/Stanford/New York Athletic Club/Ethnikos Piraeus) found Ryan Bailey (Long Beach, CA/UC Irvine/Newport Water Polo/JUG Dubrovnik) for an easy score in the hole, the only goal of the quarter, making it a 1-0 game.
Greece evened the score at 1-1 with 1:11 to play in the second quarter on an extra-man goal by Argyrios Theodoropoulous. Tony Azevedo (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Long Beach Shore) rifled a U.S. player-advantage shot off of the far post on the team's final possession of the half. An offensively stale first half saw a total of 12 goalie saves between both teams, including eight by Brandon Brooks (Honolulu, HI/UCLA/Los Angeles Water Polo).
Greece took a 2-1 lead on a long skip goal by Theodoropolous that went bar-down and in with 4:05 to play in the third.
Heading into the fourth, both teams had shot very poorly, combining to go 3-for-33. Greece got a goal from Theodorous Chatzitheodorou from the perimeter with 5:09 to play in the fourth to take a two-goal lead at 3-1. Azevedo cut the lead to 3-2, going bar-in from eight meters out with 1:19 left in the game, but Greece picked up an insurance goal when Anastasios Schizas walked the ball in to two meters and fired a goal past Brooks on the next possession.
Brooks was strong in goal for the U.S., tallying 14 saves in the game. Azevedo and Bailey had a goal apiece.
The U.S. had a tough time finding the cage, shooting 2-for-22 overall and 1-for-9 on the player-up. Greece didn't fare well on offense either, going 4-for-24 on the day.
Following the game, U.S. head coach Ratko Rudic discussed the road ahead for his young team.
"We were very strong and physically well prepared, but we had poor execution on the 6-on-5 today," he said. "We will continue to train for Pan American Games now. The games here aren't as important. We will start to focus on Pan Ams."
The U.S. can still finish fifth in the tournament, which would be the team's best finish since taking fourth at the 1990 Worlds in Perth, Australia.
Looking ahead, the U.S. will compete in the 2003 Pan American Games from August 3-11 in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). The top finishing team there comes away with a ticket to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The top three from this World Championships will earn automatic berths as well.
The U.S. will face Romania in a 12:00 p.m. game on Thursday (July 24) at Club Natacio Barcelona. Slovakia missed a shot at the medal rounds after taking a 13-5 beating from Hungary earlier today.