Aussies grab seventh place
THE Australian men's water polo team has defeated the USA 10-9 to win the battle for seventh place at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The result was Australia's best since Barcelona in 1992 and bettered the team's eighth place in Beijing four years ago. But results don't tell the whole story - this team has come way further than that.
Led by rising star Billy Miller and dual Olympians Rhys Howden and Richie Campbell, the Australians sent veterans Gavin Woods and Thomas Whalan out in style in their final international appearance after four Olympic campaigns.
Miller said the team had come into the game determined to give Whalan, Woods and captain Sam McGregor, who is also considering retirement, the send off they deserved.
"It's always a relief to win the last game on a high note," Miller said. "We had a disappointing game in the quarter-final but we had to reset and our job was to finish as high as we could, which was seventh.
"We did it for the older boys that are retiring this year that have put a lot of work in for so long for Australia. Thomas Whalan, Gavin Woods and Sam McGregor, it's a relief to send them out on a win in their last game."
Whalan, who said it was great to get a win, scored his 31st Olympic goal during the match and while he was adamant this would be his last Olympics he is still one of the best players in the world and looks, physically, like he could play on in Rio.
"I'm coming off with a massive smile on my face," Whalan said. "Seventh isn't where we wanted to finish by any stretch of the imagination but we played really well and showed that we now have a level of water polo that can now compete and get on top of the best countries in the world and Australian water polo needs to take this as a start and build onto it into the next four years."
Whalan said he and Woods had shared a quiet word as the teams were being introduced in the pre-match lineup.
"Gav's not a man of many words but up in the lineup I basically said to him 'let's leave everything in the pool' and i think we did today," Whalan said.
"It's been an honour playing beside Gavin Woods. He's an absolute champion for Australian water polo, playing over 350 games."
Australia got the scoring underway with a goal to Howden, his 10th of these Olympic Games, before a USA reply followed by strikes to Miller and Whalan made it 3-1 to Australia at the first break.
Not long after play resumed Miller scored his second of the game and Australia led by three goals. The Americans scored a pair of extra man goals split by Woods' own from the post in extra man and at the main break it was 5-3 for Australia.
Jamie Beadsworth, who has been nothing short of outstanding in London, opened the scoring in the third term with a backhander from centre forward following a pinpoint pass from Whalan, and when Howden and Miller combined for the latter to score his third of the game the Australians led by four.
American captain Tony Azevedo got one back for his side in extra man with a tick under two minutes remaining in the quarter but when Australia earned an extra player chance Campbell converted and it was again 8-4 with a quarter to play.
In their last two games Australia had lost to Serbia (in the quarterf-inals) and Hungary (in their classification match) after leading for much of the contest and they were determined not to suffer the same fate here.
Azevedo and fellow veteran Ryan Bailey tried to engineer an American fightback with three goals between them but Campbell drilled two more of his own to bring up a hat trick and all but secure the win.
The US struck back in the last minute or so, scoring three late goals for a final margin of 10-9 to Australia but it was never really that close.
Miller top scored in the tournament for the Aussie Sharks with 13 - a stunning start to what will no doubt be an extended Olympic career.
In Miller, Howden, Campbell, Aidan Roach, Joel Dennerley, James Clark, Johnno Cotterill and Aaron Younger, Australia has a group of young men capable of challenging for Olympic gold - maybe as soon as in Rio in four years time.