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U.S. Shows Character in Victory Over Greece

Water polo: Greek players push, but Americans pull it out, 7-6, to advance to title game.


NEWPORT BEACH — Chris Humbert launched the ball the length of the pool--and then some--a moment after the final horn sounded. A gesture of celebration, with a touch of relief.

"I just wanted the ball as far away from our goal as possible," Humbert said.

Humbert, as he had been throughout most of Saturday's game, was on target. He had helped the United States' water polo team to a 7-6 victory over Greece, setting up a United States-Yugoslavia rematch at 3 p.m. today in the championship game of the Newport Beach Invitational tournament.

But Humbert, and the estimated crowd of 1,600 at the Marian Bergeson Aquatic Center, knew how close it had been to a Yugoslavia-Croatia final.

The United States built a 7-3 lead midway through the third quarter, then held on, surviving two shots by Greece's Georgios Psychos in the final eight seconds.

"I think we got away from getting the ball [inside]," Humbert said. "I don't know if we were scared about giving up something in transition, but we were rushing our shots from the outside the last quarter or so."

Still . . .

"We did show a lot of character," Humbert said. "This was the type of game the United States' teams usually get a tie in the past."

It came close to a push again, but each time Greece threatened in the final minutes, goalie Dan Hackett responded. Hackett finished with eight saves, three in the last three minutes. Three of the goals he gave up came with the U.S. team down a man.

Hackett was beaten early in the fourth quarter, when Filippos Kaiafas passed across the goal mouth to Georgios Afroydakis, leaving Hackett out of position. The goal cut the U.S. team's lead to 7-6.

A moment later, Kaiafas and Afroydakis attempted to work the same play. This time, Hackett left the net to break up the pass.

"Dan played great, but he's having to make too many saves," U.S. Coach John Vargas said. "We're not giving him much help."

Humbert did, blocking two shots and drawing three offensive fouls. On offense, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Humbert spent most of the game in close, creating opportunities. He scored three goals and set up a another by drawing a foul for a penalty shot.

The Greek players were hardly unfamiliar with Humbert's style and tenacity. Until last week, he was playing for Halkida in the Greek professional league and was the league's second-leading scorer.

"I know all these guys, two of them are my teammates in Greece," Humbert said "I had a few laughs with a couple of the guys out there. Of course, there were a couple of others who decided they'd hit me."

The United States, which finished 4-1 in pool play, was able to give as well as take in a physical game. The edge came with the U.S. team's finesse.

Jeremy Laster twice made on-the-money passes for goals, one on a lob to the 6-8 Kyle Kopp. Chris Oeding hit Humbert with a similar pass for a goal that gave the United States a 7-3 lead with 4 minutes 28 seconds left in the third quarter.

It proved to be enough, barely.

Yugoslavia, which lost to the United States, 10-5, on Friday had a much easier time getting to the final with a 12-6 victory over Croatia in an emotional match. Veljko Uskokovic had three goals, two in the first quarter, to help Yugoslavia take a 3-1 lead.

In the first game, Craig Miller scored four goals to lead Australia to a 14-3 victory over Canada.


Newport International Water Polo Tournament

* When: Today

* Where: Marian Bergeson Aquatic Center, Corona del Mar High, 2101 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach

* Today's Schedule: Fifth-place match, Greece vs. Canada, noon; third-place match, Croatia vs. Australia, 1:30 p.m.; championship, United State vs. Yugoslavia, 3 p.m.

* Tickets: $10 adults, $5 for students

* Information: (714) 862-4052

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