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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | WATER POLO

Hungary Thwarts U.S. Upset Bid

September 26, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — The moment was there, but the U.S. men's water polo team couldn't quite seize it.

After a 10-9 loss to Hungary today that dropped the U.S. record to 1-3, the men look as if they need to win or tie Wednesday against Greece to reach the quarterfinals and keep alive any hope of matching the medal won by the women.

A victory over Greece is definitely doable--Greece lost its first four games, including a 10-7 loss to the Netherlands today, and the U.S. has a big advantage in goal differential, which is used to break ties in the standings.

But the U.S. would have loved to grab a victory over Hungary (3-1), a traditional power that has won six Olympic golds, the last in 1976.

Twice in the final minute at the Ryde Aquatic Center, the U.S. had an opportunity to tie.

But goalkeeper Dan Hackett's long pass for Chris Humbert in the final 30 seconds was stolen by Hungary's Barnabas Steinmetz.

Humbert cried foul but didn't get a call.

"It was a foul. I mean, the fourth quarter we didn't get one call from the referees," Humbert said. "I think they were poor, very poor."

Coach John Vargas was upset too, but he took a more practical view.

"In situations at the end of the game, they're not going to give you that call," he said. "You've got to play through it. I believe it was a foul. Chris is right. But don't expect anything from anyone. You've got to do it yourself."

The last chance for the U.S. came with only three seconds left, but the set play didn't work when Tony Azevedo's pass was blocked.

"Believe it or not, we've worked on that," Vargas said.

"That was the pass Tony was trying to make, but we couldn't get a hand on it to get a deflection."

Scoring with so little time left was a longshot anyway.

"But you never know. They scored with 0.5 seconds left in the third quarter," Vargas said.

That shot by Rajmund Fodor tied the score, 8-8, erasing a U.S. lead that was briefly as much as two goals.

The match was nip-and-tuck most of the way, with the U.S. usually playing catch-up as the Hungarians scored from long range, taking advantage of the U.S. perimeter defense and goalkeeping.

But the Americans went ahead, 7-5, on a shot by Sean Kern that went off the goal post and in midway through the third.

The last U.S. lead was at 9-8 on a goal by Azevedo early in the fourth, but Hungary scored the next two, clinching it on a goal by Gergely Kiss after he outswam a defender with 2:12 left.

The final preliminary games are Wednesday, and Vargas said as long as the U.S. can manage to advance, things could look up.

"My feeling is the top four teams could quite possibly be in our bracket," he said. "We want to get through this and have the opportunity to play in that crossover."

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