Tokyo 2020 Recap: Men’s Water Polo – Australia vs Serbia

After an upset victory over Croatia, Australia was unable to replicate the feat against reigning champions Serbia. Picture: Water Polo Australia Facebook

After the elation of defeating Croatia, the Australian Water Polo team has gone down against an impressive Serbian outfit with the final score Serbia 14-8 Australia. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

Setting the scene

Heading into the match, the equation was simple for both sides; win at all costs.

Group B was proving to be an open affair with Spain the only country to remain undefeated. Australia was coming off of a surprise Water Polo victory against Croatia, who in turn defeated world number one Montenegro today.

Croatia enjoyed a comfortable win against relative outsiders Kazakhstan but failed to get the points over Spain, losing by just one goal in a scintillating contest.

With both sides stranded on one win each, whoever came out on top here was set to pull away from the bottom half and join Croatia in equal second position.

With the top four teams from each group going through to the quarter finals, this match was primed to be a classic and the ramifications of the result would be huge for both winner and loser.

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Serbia start by stunning the Sharks

It was the Aussies that got things underway, winning the swim-off and taking possession of the ball before Rhys Howden fired wide.

Serbia were gifted the first goal of the game, youngster Tim Putt giving away a penalty that Rio’s top-scorer Filip Filipovic converted.

The game’s first exclusion gave Australia a chance to draw level but Richie Campbell’s shot bounced over the goal off of the surface of the water.

The numerical advantage then went the way of Serbia and they did not waste the opportunity, extending the lead to two goals.

Serbian Prlainovic then extended the lead to three as the Australians once again found themselves down a player.

It was obvious early, this was going to be a stern test for the Australians, Serbia solid at the back and relentless up front.

Branislav Mitrovic’s wingspan in the Serbian goal looked to be causing issues for Aussie attackers but at the other end, Serbia was having no such issues.

With two minutes to play in the opening term and the score 4-0, Elvis Fatovic called a time-out and proceeded to give the Sharks a verbal barrage, trying to get his side to lift after a low-energy start.

It failed to pay dividends as Serbia’s defence remained impenetrable, causing a shot-clock violation for the Aussies, then bringing the ball up on the offensive side and scoring with minimal difficulty.

With 10 seconds to play, Brazovic scored his second, the score now a staggering 6-0, the Sharks well behind the eight ball in the early stages of this vital clash.

Serbian stranglehold tightens

If the Serbian defence was impressive in the first quarter, it was even more so in the second, causing a shot-clock violation with the first play of the term.

The response? Well, much like the first term, Serbia wasted no time in pushing the ball up the other end and finding the inside of the goal with ease, Hrysanthos helpless in net for the Sharks.

The Australians were gifted a golden chance but Rhys Howden failed to convert their first penalty, saved by Mitrovic in goal.

Finally, the Australia Water Polo side managed to trouble the scorers, Tomasevic finding the net for the Australians following an exclusion.

The third penalty of the match went the way of Serbia and once again, there was nothing Hrysanthos could do as Mardic scored and put his side up 8-1.

For as much as the defensive end was becoming an issue for the Aussies, it was their offence that was the glaring problem in the opening half.

On the odd occasion they were able to gain possession of the ball following an unsuccessful Serbian attack, Australia’s attack was completely stifled by the Serbian defence.

The inability to even get a shot away was becoming a massive problem, particularly with the Serbians on fire in front of goal, scoreboard pressure a constant issue.

Sharks comeback on the cards?

The second half started with Australia finding the net for just the second time of the night, captain Aaron Younger firing home from long range, exactly the start Fatovic would have been after.

This was swiftly followed by Lachie Edwards scoring from the left wing, the score now 10-3 and the Sharks perhaps with the tiniest hope of getting back into the contest.

The momentum was quickly stifled by Serbia, thanks largely to a double exclusion giving them a two person advantage. The Serbians scored again, making it 4/4 from exclusions so far.

At 11-3, the Aussies search for a miracle comeback continued but making up an eight goal deficit against the reigning champions was going to be a tall order.

Though it began with a bang, the quarter petered out, neither side able to score again. Serbia had seemingly taken its foot off of the gas offensively and the Aussies continued to struggle to create opportunities.

With the score 11-3 with just one quarter of action remaining, the game was seemingly done and dusted.

Final quarter flurry

Richie Campbell scored his seventh goal of the tournament to begin the final term but the atmosphere in the game had been sapped, Serbia’s seven goal lead unassailable with just six and a half minutes remaining.

The Sharks would not die quietly, though, Blake Edwards adding to Campbell’s goal to bring the margin back to a respectable six goals.

The two sides traded goals throughout the final term, the margin continuing to hover around the six goal mark.

Serbia failed to maintain its perfect record with an Aussie in the exclusion zone, though Mandic scoring to make the score 14-8 made it 6/7 with the extra number.

Eventually, the final siren blew with the score 14-8 in favour of the Europeans, a convincing win and one that was thoroughly deserved.

For the Australians, their lackluster start left them with too much work to do in the second half, Serbia’s defensive intensity a highlight, causing a number of Australian turnovers.

Dejan Savic’s side was relentless in front of goal with 14 of their 20 shots finding their way past Hrysanthos in the Australian goal.

Australia Water Polo knockout hopes remain alive

Thankfully for Australia, all is not lost, its win against Croatia keeping them well in the hunt for a top four finish in the group which would see them qualify for the knockout stage.

Their remaining games against Spain (1st) and Kazakhstan (6th) will be vital as sides in the middle of the table face off against each other.

With this convincing win, Serbia jumps to equal second on the table and will look to keep the momentum going when it takes on a resurgent Croatia on July 31.

Men’s Water Polo – Australia vs Serbia Final Score

Australia 8 ( B. Edwards 2, Campbell, Tomasevic, L. Edwards, Roach, Younger, Ford 1)

Serbia 14 (Mandic 4, Rasovic 3, Prlainovic 2, Pljetovic, Dedovic, Jaksic, Filipovic, S. Mitrovic 1)

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