ATHENS — The losers talked like winners Thursday.
The Hungarian men's water polo team got a victory, 7-5, over the United States at the Olympic Aquatic Center.
The U.S. took the moral victory.
This was, after all, the Hungarians, unbeaten in three matches in these Olympics, the defending Olympic champions, the silver-medal winners in the 2002 world championships and the gold-medal winners in the 2003 World Cup. They are strong, deep and experienced. Nine of their 12 players were on that 2000 Olympic gold-medal team.
"Any time you can get that close to a team like Hungary, you have played well," said Tony Azevedo of the U.S. squad.
"We were pretty competitive with them," echoed team captain Wolf Wigo.
There was, indeed, some satisfaction to be gleaned from the first U.S. defeat, after a pair of victories. The U.S. was behind by only a goal, 5-4, at the half, and held the Hungarians to two second-half goals. But the Hungarian defense tightened up as well, limiting the U.S. to a single score in the final 14 minutes.
Azevedo scored two of the U.S. goals, the others sent into the net by Ryan Bailey, Brett Ormsby and Jesse Smith. Wigo, who had scored four times in the previous game, against Kazakhstan, was blanked.
Five Hungarians scored, led by Norbert Madaras and Tamas Varga with two goals apiece.
"I expected to see the best team out there and that's what I saw," said U.S. goalkeeper Brandon Brooks, who had 11 saves. His Hungarian counterpart, Zoltan Szecsi, had seven saves.
But the key was player-advantage scoring. Hungary scored five goals in 11 opportunities with a U.S. player in the penalty area. The U.S. was only three for 11 with the 6-5 edge.
"Each game is a new lesson for us," U.S. Coach Ratko Rudic said. "Today, the lesson was six on five. We had our chances, but they deserved to win."
Experience is the big issue with Rudic. He is certain his team will have to swim through Hungary if it hopes to win gold. He is well aware that only three of his players have previous Olympic experience.
To compensate, Rudic continues to maintain a furious practice pace. Seven hours after the loss to Hungary, the U.S. players were back in the pool. Rudic likes to call it "suffering."
He is not impressed with moral victories.
In other games, Serbia and Montenegro beat Kazakhstan, 9-5; Spain beat Australia, 8-4; Italy beat Germany, 10-5; Greece throttled Egypt, 15-4, and Russia edged Croatia, 9-8.