SPORTS

Greek team goes a step further for bronze

The men’s national water polo team, which narrowly missed out on a bronze medal at last year’s Summer Olympics in Athens, went a step further Saturday and achieved third place at the World Championships in Montreal with an 11-10 victory over Croatia. The Greeks’ medal was their first in either the World Championships or the Olympics. In Saturday’s final, Serbia-Montenegro upset defending and Olympic champion Hungary, the sport’s most dominant traditional power, 8-7. Greece nudged out Croatia in overtime after equalizing seconds before the end of regular time. Long-serving captain Giorgos Afroudakis, who hinted, in post-match comments, that his career had now ended, put the ball into the upper left corner of the net with nine seconds left in regulation, forcing overtime at 9-all. Croatia’s skipper Teo Dogas put his side ahead 10-9 with his fifth goal for the game. Greece’s Anastassios Schizas responded to tie the game at 10-all with 48 seconds left. With 11 seconds to go, Christos Afroudakis sent a no-look backhand pass to Giorgos Afroudakis, who scored past Croatian goalie Josip Pavic. «I’ve dreamt of this since I was young,» Giorgos Afroudakis said. «I wanted to end my career by scoring a goal that was so important in the match – that would win the match,» he added. Saturday’s bronze medal, which tops the team’s recent series of sturdy outings, consolidated Greece’s stature as a new force in water polo. Greece showed it was an emerging power by finishing fourth at last summer’s Athens Olympics, following a 6-5 loss to Russia. Prior to that, Greece had lost in the bronze medal game at the 2003 Worlds. They were sixth in 2001 and eighth in 1998. «This is a major moment for Greek water polo. Let’s not forget that, until not too long ago, we would lose to all these sides by 10-goal margins. We can take something like this and go higher. We saw in the semifinals that we are very close to the top two teams,» commented Afroudakis, referring to Greece’s one-goal defeat against Hungary in the semifinals. «We can go higher,» he added. Fellow veteran player Antonis Vlontakis said he felt proud to be a member of this team. Its coach, Italian Alessandro Campagna, Vlontakis remarked, «took Greece from the Stone Age in water polo and put it in the age of the computer. We showed when we want something really, really bad, we can take it.»  Campagna, who credited his team for its «exceptional work,» felt it didn’t have enough time to prepare for the Olympics. Since then, some younger players have joined the team. «This team should be good in the future and give the Greek nation much pride,» Campagna said. «We’ve made a definite jump to go up with the top water polo teams… this year we had gained the experience to do what we could not do at the [previous] Worlds in Barcelona and at Olympics.» Theodoros Hadzitheodorou led Greece with three goals. Christos Afroudakis, Dimitrios Mazis and Argyris Theodoropoulos added two goals each. Spain took fifth place with an 8-7 victory over Romania. Xavier Valles and Ivan Perez scored two goals each for Spain. «Maybe we could have played better,» Spain’s Felipe Perrone said. «We changed nine players from the last national Spanish team and this renovation is very important.» Olympic bronze-medalist Russia defeated Italy 7-6 in the seventh-place game, getting two goals each from Vitaly Yurchik and Irek Zinnurov. In the women’s tournament, the Greek team, a silver medalist at the Athens Olympics, ended fifth. Hungary, the 2002 water polo world champions, regained the title they surrendered to the Americans at Barcelona in 2003 with a 10-7 win over the USA in last Friday’s final. (Kathimerini, AP)