The United Stats men's water polo team got off to an excellent start as they defeated Montenegro 8-7 in their first game at the London Olympics. Tony Azevedo's only goal of the game was the game winner from well outside the five-meter to put the United States up 8-6 with less than one minute left.
Montenegro's Vladimir Gojkovic scored 10 seconds later to make it a one-goal game, and after the United States turned the ball over it gave Montenegro life. There was 17 seconds left in the game but the United States defense did not even allow Montenegro to get a shot off to attempt a tie.
Peter Varellas scored a team-high three goals and talked about the last few possessions of the game:
"We went up on them early and kind of let them back into it, made it a little closer in the end than we would have hoped,'' Varellas said. "Going up two goals under a minute you should be pretty comfortable. We let them get that quick goal, maybe a mental lapse, but we were able to finish in the end which is what matters most.''
This was the lowest scoring game on the first day of water polo competition, and both teams played very well on defense. Team USA goalie Merrill Moses was a mad man in the cage by blocking nearly everything in site, and had the best facial expressions as well. Moses ended the game with 11 saves, and he was very close on other saves that just slipped by his finger tips. The field players also had a big day on defense with many field blocks to help out Moses, particularly early on in the first quarter.
Neither team did well on power play chances as Team USA went 2-of-6 while Montenegro was 2-of-8. Typically, the United States fails to win when they execute poorly on man-advantage chances, but their defense saved the day.
The second quarter is when the United States looked like they were going to win this game as they outscored Montenegro 3-1 to lead 4-2 at the half. In the third quarter each team exchanged goals, but it was Montenegro who scored first to make it a 4-3 game. The United States countered with two straight goals, the first was by Adam Wright who forced his way to the front of the cage to score on a log shot. The second goal was by Varellas to make it a 6-3 game.
That three goal lead was the largest of the game for the United States, and would not last long as Montenegro would make it a 6-4 game heading into the final period. In the fourth quarter the game tightened up, and it looked like the United States team was not playing to win but rather running out the clock in the final frame. However, their defense did not let up at all.
Montenegro came back to make it a one-goal game on a counter attack 2:06 left, and shortly later was when Azevedo scored the game winning goal.
The United States defense was amazing in this game from all sides of the game, and made it very difficult for Montenegro to get good shots on goal. However, the offense was a bit shaky, particularly on power play which only made 33 percent of their chances. Also, only getting six power play chances is not a good number. Part of that had to do with Montenegro crashing the two-meter area and making it difficult for the United States to get the ball inside. Also, Azevedo only three shots on goal can not happen going forward, especially against the top teams in the world. They need to find a way to get him at least five shots per game.
This is only the second time since 2008 that the USA Men have beaten Montenegro in a major championship. The last was an 11-10 shootout victory at the 2011 FINA World League Super Final. Leading Montenegro in scoring was Aleksander Ivovic who scored three goals.
Next up for Team USA is against Romania on July 31.
For anyone who missed the game a full replay can be found here.