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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Croatia Issues Wake-Up Call, and U.S. Answers the Alarm

Water polo: Americans have lessons to learn from 10-8 victory.

July 25, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Two early goals, two late goals.

Two more "teachable moments" for Coach Rich Corso and still another victory for the U.S. water polo team.

This time it was Croatia that fell, 10-8, in a game that wasn't that close.

What looked like the start of a bad night for goalkeeper Chris Duplanty turned into an impressive show of all-around strength for the United States.

With Corso rotating players and positions, the Americans finished pool play fresh, rested and with a 4-1 record. The U.S. will meet Spain, which went 3-2 in its pool, in a quarterfinal game Friday at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Italy, the defending world and Olympic champion, and Hungary, last year's World Cup winner, were the only teams that finished pool play 5-0.

Take away the start and the end and Corso, who held an extended meeting with his team after the game, was completely satisfied.

"You can't rest on your laurels or your goalie," he said of two goals Croatia scored within a minute late in the game. "That's what we were talking about in there. We needed to exorcise that."

Croatia, which came in with the same record as the U.S., scored two goals in the first 1:46. But by the end of the first quarter, the Americans had tied the score and never trailed again.

Duplanty, after his tenuous beginning, looked every bit like the three-time Olympian he is. The former UC Irvine star made 20 saves and also connected on a pair of long passes that directly led to goals.

"When you go down, 2-0, it's certainly a wake-up call, but that's the nature of playing at this level," Duplanty said. "If you're not on your toes, you get bitten."

Croatia outshot the U.S., 37-21, but the Americans were models of efficiency and balance. Nine players took shots for the U.S., and eight scored.

Kirk Everist and Jeremy Laster, players previously unsung, had two goals. Dubravko Simenc had four goals for Croatia.

Everist, who is in his second Olympics, scored the first U.S. goal after a long pass from Duplanty.

"That was a great counter goal, and it got us going," Corso said.

Everist added another score just before halftime, bouncing a shot to the right of goalkeeper Sinisa Skolnekovic.

Laster's goals were his first of the Games and they came only 1:10 apart in the third quarter, giving the U.S. its first two-goal advantage.

"The second half has been ours the last two nights," said two-meter man Chris Humbert, who scored his 10th goal of the Games despite playing less than half the game. "They looked tired. I think we wore them down."

When he wasn't busy stopping shots, Duplanty liked what he saw from in front of the net.

"It seems as though each night we have someone different score goals and stop us," he said. "As part of the machine, that gives me a lot of confidence.

"The best team is going to win, and on a team everyone contributes. That's what's happening with us."

The U.S. came into the game knowing that, depending on the outcome, it would face either Spain or Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals.

"It didn't matter," Duplanty said. "You can't pick your poison. There are no easy teams here."

Spain won silver at home in Barcelona in 1992. Yugoslavia, which was sanctioned out of those Games, won gold in 1988 and '84 and came in having won a qualification tournament in Germany this spring.

Laster said the U.S. got the team it wanted.

"We looked at our options and they are definitely the team we want to play," he said, noting Spain's smaller size.

Corso was more diplomatic.

"It made a difference only from the perspective of us needing to keep momentum going," he said. "Which team we got didn't matter. Whoever it was, we were still going to have some surprises in store for them."

Sounds like another learning experience in the making.

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