Olympic dream over for water polo men

Canada's men's water polo team, shown here in action against Argentina this week, lost to Greece...

Canada's men's water polo team, shown here in action against Argentina this week, lost to Greece Saturday 10-6. (QMI Agency)

Derek Van Diest, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:06 AM ET

The Olympic dream came to an end for Canada’s water polo team as they were eliminated in the quarter-final of the qualification tournament Friday at the Kinsmen Sports Centre.

Canada lost 10-6 to Greece in the match determining the fourth and final berth from the tournament to this year’s London Olympics. Earlier in the day, Spain, Romania and Montenegro booked their tickets to London.

Yet despite their disappointment, the Canadians were optimistic about the future of their program, fielding one of the youngest teams in the competition.

“This team gave it their all tonight,” said Kevin Graham, who scored a pair of goals for Canada in the loss. “We knew it was going to be a really tough match-up with Greece, they’re an experienced team, and they’re vying for the same thing we were, they wanted to go to the Olympics quite bad as well.

“We were missing a little bit of execution and our power play wasn’t as strong as it could have been, and maybe should have been, to try and get a win in this game. But we put it all on the line and that’s all you can ask. We fought and we played with our hearts.”

Canada came into the game having finished second in their pool rankings after a hard-fought loss to Spain on Thursday. They knew they were in for another tough encounter against Greece, who were a more experienced group.

“The guys fought really, really hard, they never gave up,” said Canadian head coach Dragan Jovanovic, who was suspended for the match and had to watch from the stands. “They had the experience. They (Greece) knew exactly when to do things, how to do it and they knew how to work the officials as well. That’s experience.”

Canada kept pace with Greece for a majority of the contest, trailing by just a goal after the first quarter and falling behind 4-2 at half time.

Goalkeeper Robin Randall played a big part in keeping the Greek’s offence in check, making a number of key saves in the first half, including a penalty stop on Christos Afroudakis in the second quarter.

Canada had difficulty penetrating the Greek’s big, physical defence, but twice pulled within a goal in the third quarter giving credence to a possible upset. But Canada could not draw even with Greece, unable to get the trying goal or the key defensive stop when they most needed it.

“I’m a little bit overwhelmed, this will take a few days to process, that’s for sure,” said Randall. “It’s been a long road and I feel a lot of conflicting emotions. I’m disappointed that we didn’t accomplish the goal we set out to do, but I’m really happy with the heart that the team showed. Being without our coach, having a long tournament and being in front of the home fans.

“The focus that we showed is beyond our years and I really respect that from this young group. I couldn’t be with a better group of individuals, they’re a fantastic, incredible, inspiring group, every day.”

Greece eventually pulled away toward the end of the third quarter, extending their lead to three goals as Canada had difficulties dealing with Georgios Afroudakis, who finished with a game-high four goals.

In the fourth quarter, Canada simply did not have the firepower to make up the deficit as Greece moved on to the semifinal where they’ll face Montenegro on Saturday. Spain will take on Romania in the other semifinal. The final goes on Sunday.

“I think the most important thing for us is that we’ll be able to wake up tomorrow morning and be proud of our effort,” said Nicolas Constantin-Bicari, who scored a pair of goals for Canada and took a beating in front of the opponent’s net.

“We’re still a really young team, I’m only 20 and I know I gave it my all. It’s disappointing that I missed my chance to go to the Olympics, but I’m confident for the next and I know we’ll have more opportunities. The Greeks were really experienced and they controlled that game way more than we did.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SUNdvandiest


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