THE Australian men's water polo team have come agonisingly close to upsetting three-time defending champions Hungary in their classification stage semi-final, going down 10-9, and will now playoff for seventh position on Sunday.
As they have shown many times throughout this Olympic campaign, Australia is just a goal or two away from beating the very best teams in the world on a regular basis.
They seriously challenged pre-tournament favourites Serbia in their semi-final before giving up a three goal lead late in the game and today led with just under five minutes left on the clock.
Australian centre back Tim Cleland, who did a brilliant job taking on the lion's share of the tight defence on the hulking Hungarian centre forwards, said Australia had a habit of not getting over the line in tight games against the sport's superpowers.
"It seems like it's a tradition with Australian water polo that we seem to get so close yet so far," Cleland said.
"It's something we have been trying to work on over the last four years but we haven't quite gotten there. We found out against Serbia and again today that it's something we need to work on.
"We need to work out what we have to do to change that."
Hungary dominated the game early to lead 4-2 at quarter time with Australia's goals coming from captain Sam McGregor and 20 year-old rising star Aaron Younger. All four of Hungary's goals came with an Australian player excluded or via a penalty.
Australia got the better of the second quarter, scoring four goals to Hungary's two, leaving the score tied at 6-all at halftime. The Aussie Sharks' goals came from McGregor, four-time Olympian Thomas Whalan and a double from Billy Miller to bring his personal tally in his debut Olympic Games to 10.
Hungary scored the only goal of the third term but the referees were still working overtime. McGregor and Hungarian centre forward Balazs Harai, who had been having a running battle all quarter, were both excluded from the match for good for the continued indiscretions. Then with 28 seconds to go, Younger received his third major foul of the game too - prematurely ending his night and prompting Australian coach John Fox to question the decision which in turn earned him a yellow card warning.
Whalan scored in extra man 90 seconds into the last quarter to once again lock things up before big Cleland showed his skill at the offensive end with a rocket of a goal from nine metres out. Suddenly Australia was back in the lead at 8-7.
Hungary's legendary head coach Denes Kemeny called a timeout when Rhys Howden was excluded with 3:16 remaining in the game and the Hungarians tied the game at 8-all following some well drilled passing sequences. But Howden bounced back almost immediately with a goal at the other end before Hungarian captain Peter Biros got his third of the game to make it nine goals apiece.
Hungary scored next to take back the lead with 1:10 to go to set up a tense last minute and when Jamie Beadsworth earned an exclusion while being monstered in centre forward, Fox called a timeout to draw up an extra man play. But the Australians couldn't get an effective shot away and the game was gone.
The loss was not all doom and gloom for the Australians - Fox gave 21 year-old goalkeeper James Clark his first full game of the tournament and the youngster did a fine job, while Miller again demonstrated he is a future captain of the Aussie Sharks with some empowered leadership.
The Australians final game will played on Sunday at 10.20am (London time) against the Beijing silver medallists USA.
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