Italy brought an end Wednesday to Hungary’s decade-long domination of men’s Olympic water polo,upsetting the three-time defending champions 11-9 to advance to the semifinals of the London Games.
Captain Maurizio Felugo put the game away late for the Italians,slotting home a long-distance shot to head off a Hungarian surge in the fourth quarter and give Italy a two-goal cushion with 58 seconds to go.
We played at the highest level,” Felugo said. We played against one of the strongest teams ever. We know that we work very hard and this is the way we like it. The way we play water polo is the way others try to play. It is us who dictate how our opponent plays.”
Italy advances to Friday’s semifinal against gold medal-favorite Serbia,which survived a scare from Australia earlier Wednesday. That game will be a rematch of the 2011 world championship final that Italy won 8-7.
For Hungary,the loss brings an end to a golden era for the traditional power in the sport.
I feel empty. I didn’t expect this game,” said Tamas Kasas,who won three golds for Hungary. We didn’t play well. Maybe they were stronger in the head today,and congratulations for them. It was a tough loss.”
Serbia,which is looking for its first Olympic title as an independent country,rallied from a three-goal halftime deficit to beat Australia 11-8.
For three quarters,Australia looked poised to pull off what would have been a massive upset,hitting long distance shots and playing pressure defense that frustrated a powerful Serbia attack.
But Serbia’s talent eventually overcame Australia’s defense,and Filip Filipovic scored his third goal of the contest to put his team ahead 9-8 with just over four minutes to play and the Serbs held on to reach Friday’s semifinals.
I expected a tough match,because in these crossovers,the lower place has an advantage because they don’t have anything to lose and in these circumstances they play freely,” Serbia coach Dejan Udovicic said.
With Serbia trailing 8-5 halfway through the third quarter,Udovicic told his players to relax and focus on closing the gap slowly.
I tried to put in their head just one (thing): Step by step _ we cannot score three goals from one attack,” he said. ”I’m very pleased because we come back,but it’s not the first time for us.”
Even with a particularly strong a deep field in London,a Serbia team boasting 2010 world player of the year Vanja Udovicic and 2011 player of the year Filipovic stood above the crowd as the favorite coming into the Olympics.
The bronze medalists in Beijing,Serbia has won nearly every major event since then,including the 2012 European championship.
But it was Australia,a surprise quarterfinalist in London,that held the upper hand for much of Wednesday’s match.
Close,but much too far in the end,” Australia’s Thomas Whalan said. Three brilliant quarters,but you can’t just play three brilliant quarters,you need to put four together. It was gut-wrenching to come out on the wrong side of the goal tally.”
Montenegro also advanced to its second consecutive Olympic semifinal by surviving Spain’s fourth-quarter rally to hold on for an 11-9 win.
After a tight first quarter that ended with the teams level at 4-4,Montenegro outscored Spain 6-2 over the next two periods It was a nice game,but we made a few mistakes the last period,” Montenegro’s Boris Zlokovic said. It’s not possible for our team to make these mistakes. We were up 10-6 and it arrived at 10-9,so it’s not possible in these matches. But we win,which is the most important thing.”
Montenegro,which finished fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics,advances to Friday’s semifinal and will play Croatia,which put in a dominant performance on both ends of the pool to beat the U.S. 8-2.
We have just bought a ticked for the big show,” said Croatia coach Ratko Rudic. We have to keep our feet on the ground,but we’ll have a small celebration and start studying our next opponents. We know what their strong and weak points are,but if we repeat today’s game,we should be all right.”
Croatia is looking to win its first medal in Olympic water polo since silver in 1996 at the Atlanta Games.