Sharks cruise into quarters
THE Australian men's water polo team is through to the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Olympic Games following an inspirational do-or-die 13-8 victory over Greece in their final group stage game at the Water Polo Arena.
Australia began the tournament with a loss to Italy and a win over Kazakhstan before consecutive defeats at the hands of Spain and Croatia, while Greece also beat Kazakhstan and managed a draw with Italy. The equation entering the match was simple - Australia had to win to finish fourth in the group and progress to the quarters.
The Australians out thought, out enthused and out muscled their bigger opponents with Rhys Howden, Jamie Beadsworth and Billy Miller outstanding at both ends of the pool - leading the way with three, two and two goals respectively.
Richie Campbell chimed in with two also, while Joel Dennerley made some crucial saves in goals during a game that Australia's head coach John Fox described as the best win of his six years coaching the national side.
Collectively the Aussie Sharks improved their extra man attack and defence marketedly - scoring six of their own seven chances and restricting the Greeks to just 30 percent of theirs.
Greece scored the first goal of the game, an extra man chance after just two minutes but Australia struck back four minutes later when man-mountain Jamie Beadsworth earned consecutive exclusions at centre forward then scored a quick goal in the resulting extra man.
A quick pass from Johnno Cotterill to veteran Gavin Woods on the next extra man situation gave Australia the lead before the Greeks evened the game up at 2-all with an opportunist goal. But the Aussies were not done for the quarter and Rhys Howden fired a rocket in following a foul to help his side to a 3-2 advantage at the first break.
Australia then won a frantic second quarter 5-3, courtesy of two goals to Richie Campbell, a second each to Beadsworth and Howden and a punctuation mark by Tim Cleland after a brilliant pass from Aidan Roach. At halftime it was 8-5 to Australia and a quarter final berth beckoned.
Howden got his hat trick with another individual laser of a shot early in the third and when Aaron Younger got his first of the tournament in extra man the Aussies were up 10-5 and the Greek coach was panicking, calling two time outs in quick succession for set plays that his team couldn't take advantage of. Four-time Olympian Thomas Whalan then scored to give Australia a six goal lead before the Greeks clawed one back towards the end of the quarter to leave Australia ahead 11-6 with a period to play.
Both teams scored a brace of goals in the final quarter with Australia's pair coming from Miller who also made two crucial steals as the Greeks tried desperately to get back into the game.
Beadsworth, whose journey just to get to London was a remarkable one having recovered from a stroke suffered in early 2010, continued his run of stunning form in this tournament. The dual Olympian and sister of the Aussie Stingers star, Gemma Beadsworth, said the team had called an 'honesty session' yesterday to critically analyse their performances so far. The two-plus hour meeting dissected every part of every game they have played so far and whatever was thrashed out worked.
"That's a lot better feeling than the last few games," Beadsworth said. "There was some fairly glaring issues that were arising again and again, especially in extra man and we spent a good chunk of the meeting dealing with them and fortunately we applied them today and it came off."
"Both (defence and offence) were a problem in previous games so it was good to get on top of them at both ends.
"We went through every defence we've been scored against and really sat down and looked at it and really clarified things and made sure we were all on the same page."
Australia must wait until the conclusion of this afternoon's games to learn who their quarterfinal opponent will be but it is likely to be last year's world championships silver medallist Serbia.
The Australian women's team will play the USA tomorrow in their semi-final - a rematch of the semi from four years ago in Beijing that was won 9-8 by the Americans.