World champions down Sharks
THE Australian men's water polo team has gone down 8-5 to world champions Italy in their opening game of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Despite a gallant effort and some stout defence in the middle of the game, the Australians were not effective enough in extra man opportunities at either end of the pool to topple an Italian side that included Pietro Figlioli - a dual Olympian for Australia.
In the first term the Italians raced to a 3-0 lead courtesy, in large part, to two goals in extra man attack and some errant shooting from the Australians on the four opportunities they had with a man up.
The Australians put in a better performance in the second period with a career first Olympic goal - a blistering extra man strike - to Tim Cleland, and another to Beijing Olympian Richie Campbell, leaving them trailing at 5-2 at the main break.
With Joel Dennerley superb in goals for Australia and an extra man goal to Rhys Howden the Aussie Sharks won the third quarter and trailed 5-3 going into the final break, but held the ascendancy.
That fact was not lost on the experienced Italians and they pushed the lead out to four goals at 7-3 before the last quarter was halfway done and the game was seemingly out of reach.
Rookie Olympians Aidan Roach and Johnno Cotterill got opportunist goals back for the plucky Australians before Italy slammed home a goal in the dying seconds to stretch the difference to three.
Australian captain Sam McGregor, a triple Olympian, felt his side missed too many chances with the ball in hand.
"Our problem was our extra man attack, we didn't execute and there were a few key opportunities we had today and the passes just weren't quite on the money," McGregor lamented.
Australian head coach John Fox said the difference in the game was pretty simple - the Australians' slow start.
"That first quarter, you can't give the world champions three goals start," Fox, himself a dual a Olympian as both a player and coach said.
"The rest of the game was even, if not we were ahead."
And the slow start? Fox put that down to the occasion.
"You talk about anxiety and nerves and the pressure of playing in the Olympics," Fox said.
"Hopefully it's out of their system now."
In earlier Group A games Croatia beat Greece 8-6 and Spain thrashed Kazakhstan by 14-6.
Australia's next game is against the Kazakhs at 2.10pm (London time) on Day 4, while the Australian women's side kick off their campaign on Day 3 against Italy at 3.30pm.