Favored Serbia Escapes with a Tie; Croatia, Defending Champs, Wins Big on 1st Day of Men’s Water Polo at FINA Worlds

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Lauren Fatovic, whose father Elvis coaches the Australian men's squad, hopes to lead Croatia to another world title. Photo Courtesy: Waterpolo Development

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Following a record-setting day for women’s polo—where Holland thrashed host South Korea by a record result of 64-0—the men got into the action at the 18th FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. And action it was, as Serbia, favored to reclaim the title it lost to Croatia in the 2017 tournament, came from two goals down late to tie a spirited Montenegro squad 10-10 in the day’s opening match.

[On 1st Day of FINA World Water Polo Championships Two Numbers Stand Out: 64 and 33]

fina-gwangju-jul19After Dragan Draskovic had given the Montenegrins a 10-8 lead with five minutes remaining in the match, Serbia, the reigning Olympic and European champions, came back. A goal by Dusan Mandic with less than three minutes to go cut the deficit to one, then Strahinja Rasovic— who netted a game-high four goals—scored the equalizer with 12 seconds left and his team enjoying the man advantage.

This was the second tie on the day, as Japan, which will host the 2020 Games—and therefore is already qualified for the Olympics—also overcame a two-goal deficit. Facing a German squad making its first appearance in the World Championships since 2013, the Japanese came all the way back, taking a 9-8 lead on a Mitsuak Shiga shot with five minutes to go. But the upstart Germans were saved by Julian Real, a member of that last FINA Worlds squad, who scored on the power play with four ticks of the clock remaining, making the final score 9-9 all.

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Dejan Savic hopes his squad has another world championship title in them.

Not to be overlooked, defending champion Croatia broke out to a 6-2 first-half advantage against Group B rival Australia before cruising to a 14-4 victory. Lauren Fatovic took five shots against his father Elvis’ team but came up empty; however, teammate Ante Vukicevic blistered Aussie goalie Joel Dennerley for six goals on seven shots, announcing the Croats as top contender for group honors.

Kazakhstan and the United States—the other side of the Group B bracket—met early on Monday, with the Americans also breaking on top early thanks to first quarter goals by Ben Hallock, Luca Cupido, Johnny Hooper and Hannes Daube that propelled them a 4-1 first-period lead. Team USA was never challenged as they went on to record a 16-7 victory. In all, four Americans—Daube, Alex Bowen, Hallock and Hooper—registered hat tricks. Next up on Wednesday for Dejan Udovicic’s squad is a date with the world champions; the Croatians will test a young American squad seeking to improve on a dismal 13th place finish in 2013.

[With 16-7 Win over Kazakhstan, U.S. Men’s Water Polo Gets off to a Fast Start at FINA Worlds]

Dejan Stanojevic, Kazakhstan’s new head coach, will look to rally his players against an Australian side that has aspirations to medal in this World Championship—which would be a first for the Aussies at Worlds.

In Group D, Brazil, which like the U.S. believes a berth in the 2020 Olympics will be theirs for the taking at next month’s Pan American games, saw a three-goal deficit at half-time versus Italy balloon to nine by match’s end. The Italians, who may push both the Serbs and Croatians for top honors in Gwangju, outscored the Brazilians 7-1 after intermission to capture a 14-5 victory. Leading the way for Italy was Stefano Luongo with a game-high four goals.

Next up for Italy is a match Wednesday against Japan; Brazil will look to get into the win column against Germany.

The rest of the day’s action was a series of mismatches, the biggest being in Group A, where Greece dominated host South Korea by a 26-3 on the strength of Christodoulos Kolomvos’ four goals on five shots. Hungary, behind a quartet of goals by Gergo Zalanki, beat New Zealand 24-4, while South Africa was a 23-3 loser to Spain and Blai Mallarach Guell, who led the Spaniards with five goals.

Group C play on Wednesday will see medal contenders Spain and Hungary compete while South Africa will look to pick up a win against New Zealand. On the other side of the Group A bracket, Montenegro and Greece will face off; if the Greeks can find a way to victory they would be in the driver’s seat for the group no matter how Serbia fares on Wednesday against South Korea—or when the Greeks and Serbs meet on Friday on the final day of group play.