It was an upset for the ages as the Australian Water Polo team pulled off a famous victory against Croatia in its second match of Tokyo 2020. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.
A second successive David vs Goliath situation loomed over Australia’s Men’s Water Polo team as it took on Croatia in round two of the group stage of Tokyo 2020.
The Aussies put in a strong showing in their opening fixture against world number one, Montenegro, but were outclassed in the end by their superior opponents.
Tonight, they went one better and managed to pull off one of the most impressive upsets in their history, defeating Croatia, who now sit 1-1.
Goalkeeper Anthony Hrysanthos was phenomenal in between the posts, keeping the Croatians at bay while the Aussie offence went to work at the other end.
An even opening
Croatia got things underway, winning the swim-off and from the start, it was a physical affair.
Australia won the ball back due to an offensive foul from the Croatian side and immediately became the aggressor, firing a shot at Croatian keeper Bijac who was equal to the task.
An early exclusion gave Australia the one man advantage but it failed to make the most of it, once again failing to beat Bijac who was busy early.
The Croatians found themselves through on goal on from a counter attack and Australian captain Aaron Younger gave away the penalty but prevented a near certain goal, albeit temporarily.
Maro Jokovic fired a shot into the bottom left corner but the Aussie Hrysanthos appeared to have made the save. However, replays showed that it had in fact crossed the line and the goal stood. Croatia drew first blood and led 1-0.
Australia replied almost instantly with some good ball movement resulting in a goal from Rhys Howden.
An Aussie player briefly lost his cap, causing a momentary break in play. As soon as play restarted, Nathan Power took the opportunity to surprise the Croatian keeper and gave Australia the lead.
Aidan Roach let fly from distance and the number seven found the target, the Aussies doubling their advantage and stating their intent early. They were certainly not intimidated by their highly rated opponents.
An Australian exclusion enabled Croatia to get a good look on goal and Fatovic made no mistake, bringing his side to within one goal of the Aussies with a minute and a half to play in the first.
As the Aussie exclusion area got a workout, the Croatians capitalised, drawing level just before the end of the first period through Paulo Obradovic.
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Keepers keep it close
Both sides started out the second quarter with clear attacking intent, each team rattling the frame of the goal in the early stages.
Despite the attacking mindset, it was the keepers who looked on top, with both teams finding it difficult to score without an exclusion in their favour.
Hrysanthos was the busier of the two in the second quarter, making a number of saves including one that deflected the ball out of bounds from a venomous shot.
Eventually, Bijac was beaten and the Aussies once again had the lead. An assist from Roach and a goal from Ford regaining them the ascendancy late in the second quarter.
The lead was once again extended to two thanks to Richard Campbell and with just over a minute to play in the half, it was the fancied Croatians who were on the back foot.
Seesawing start to the second half
The third quarter opened with a golden opportunity for the Croatians but again, Hrysanthos was equal to the task, keeping the Australin advantage at two, but it didn’t stay like that for long.
Richard Campbell extended the Aussie lead, firing home with confidence and putting some distance between the Sharks and Croatia who at this point took a time-out.
Croatia had not scored since the end of the first quarter and the trend continued early in the third, Croatia failing to find the net, largely thanks to the heroics of Hrysanthos.
Australia put its foot on the gas and began to pull away, youngster Timothy Putt firing past Bijac from long range with authority, the score now 7-3.
Finally, Croatia got the breakthrough it so desperately needed through a shot from Loren Fatovic, his second for the game.
A Croatian counter saw Fatovic go one on one with the keeper but before he could let a shot go, he was pulled back by Roach, resulting in an exclusion and a penalty throw.
Jokovic converted and all of a sudden, the lead was cut to just two. Still with three minutes to play in the third, the momentum was now with the Croatians.
Elvis Fatovic called a time-out to try and wrestle back some control but it was in vain as Croatia came within one goal of the Aussies in the last minute of the third quarter.
Australia seemingly added one more goal to its tally but it was ruled out after the siren to signal the end of the quarter was deemed to have blown just before the release of the ball.
Sharks smell blood in the water
It was a match destined for a photo finish and the Aussies started strongest in the final term, doubling their lead in the early stages.
Skipper Aaron Younger fired home from close range and Bijac had no answer, the Sharks pulling away with the three goal buffer restored.
The confidence was showing for the Aussies as they added yet another goal, piling the pressure on Croatia as the highly-ranked Europeans now faced a tough task of overcoming a four goal deficit in five minutes.
To do so, they would have to find a way past Hrysanthos, something that didn’t look likely in the slightest as the Aussie keeper was in rare form.
The damage seemed to be done, Croatia failing to fire a shot on numerous possessions and looking noticeably dejected.
Suddenly, a shot from Luka Bukic deflected off an Australian defender leaving Hrysanthos stranded, the lead cut to three and the Australians staring at what threatened to be a nervous final three minutes.
The Aussies kept their cool, Blake Edwards lobbing the ball past the Croatian keeper and the lead was extended back to four goals, Croatia now with an almost impossible mountain to climb.
With 1:30 on the clock, Croatia called its final time-out, plotting one last push for victory.
The time-out immediately paid dividends with Croatia pulling one back, scoring from the wing.
The Sharks ran down the clock with their remaining possessions, though, nullifying any chance of a Croatian miracle and the upset victory was complete, the underdog Aussies had done it.
Father-son fixture a friendly footnote
Perhaps the strangest storyline of the match came in the form of quite a remarkable situation.
Croatian player Loren Fatovic found himself up against a familiar foe in the second Olympic contest of his career with his father, Elvis, the head coach of the Australian team.
Loren had a solid game for the Croatians, scoring twice from four attempts but it was his father, Elvis, who had the last laugh, his Australian side running out clear victors in a tremendous performance.
A Richie Campbell hat-trick was the cherry on top of an incredible win that gives the Sharks the much needed belief that a Water Polo medal is not off the cards in Tokyo 2020.
Australia 11 (Campbell 3, B. Edwards 2, Younger, Ford, Putt, Roach, Power, Howden 1)
Croatia 8 (Jokovic 3, Fatovic, Bukic 2, Obradovic 1)
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