07 Aug Men's quarter-finals preview By: Tim Hartog National Teams, Olympic Games After the preliminary stage, the men’s competition will start off its second phase on Wednesday with the best eight teams competing in the quarter-finals. Spain and Montenegro will start the day leading up to the final encounter between group A winners Croatia and the United States of America. Although this is a matchup of a group winner and other group’s number four, the match could be very tough for Croatia as USA started the tournament well and showed the World they can beat any top team on a given day. Defending champs Hungary will play reigning World champions Italy for a spot in the semi-finals while Australia, who entered the quarter-finals as the last side beating Greece on the final group stage day, face the daunting task of making life difficult for group B winners Serbia. The first game of the day is the one between Spain, who finished third in group A, and Montenegro, the numbers two of group B. The Spaniards lost a tense battle to Italy on the final preliminary day to finish third after having claimed the second spot almost all tournament and even hoped for more as as last second attempt (and possible equalizer) from centre-forward Ivan Perez in the game against Croatia for first place in the group was taken off the goal line by Croatia’s goalie Josip Pavic and did not count leading up to Croatia having won all their matches for the group win while Spain eventually finished third and will now battle Montenegro. A familiar side as both team squared off just days before travelling to London for the Olympics in Herceg Novi, Montenegro on the occasion of the opening of the new swimming pool of club Jadran Herceg Novi. Not a too pleasant meeting for the Iberians as they were blown away 9-2 by the home team. Although the situation will be rather different on Wednesday in the Water Polo Arena, the Montenegrins seemed to be the slight favorite. Being responsible for the only draw group winner Serbia had to swallow, the 2012 European runners-up played a nice group stage and are seeking a medal, after finishing fourth at the 2008 Olympics. That group winner and top gold medal contender Serbia has to overcome Australia in order to progress to the final four of the tournament in the second encounter of the day. The Aussie Sharks defeated Greece 13-8 in a head-to-head duel for quarter-final qualification on Monday shooting particularly well from outside, a factor they will be needing against the Serbian defense on Wednesday as well. The physical Australians will have to find solutions for the versatile Serbian team offence and need an offensive ‘A’ –game in order make a chance for a slight upset. Serbia has been at times impressive so far only suffering an 11-11 draw against Montenegro in the group stage and winning all other matches including a big win over USA. With three players in the top scorers list top 10, the Australian defense will face a tough task of slowing the Serbian offense down in order to keep pace. If they can, this quarter-final could turn into a nice battle. Yet another top game is the third one of the day as reigning champs Hungary and 2011 World champions Italy square off in what could become the most interesting meeting of the day. The Hungarians had a rather disappointing start of the tournament losing their first two games before posting a win over Romania. But the much needed turnaround in the experienced side’s game came in the final group stage round on Monday as USA was beaten 11-6 in impressive fashion. The Hungarian fans saw something of their so often victorious side back in that game as Denes Kemeny’s squad lead throughout the way to eventually finish third in the group. The win obviously brought back some confidence towards the quarter-finals as they will face an Italian side that closed out the preliminary rounds on a good way as well. Coach Alessandro Campagna saw his team winning the head-to-head battle for second place against Spain 10-7 with a strong performance from centre-forward Danijel Premus who scored three consecutive goals in a second quarter run by the Italians. The Croatian-born player could be the cornerstone to success for Italy creating much more danger at the centre-forward position, drawing more exclusions while more moveable centre-forward Matteo Aicardi benefits scoring two important goals in the final phase of the game against Spain as well as the Italian front-line is one to watch for the Hungarian defense. Both teams look to be well leveled and although the Hungarians have more recent top Olympic experience, the Italians will look to follow up their success at the 2011 World championships with claiming at least a medal in London. The other top gold medal contender Croatia is facing the silver medalist from four years ago: USA. As being said, the Croatians seemed to be the favorite but will be happy with an opponent like the USA who are looking to rebound from two clear losses closing out the group stage. Head coach Terry Schroeder and his men got off to a nice tournament start defeating Montenegro in their opening game before the final two games were lost to Serbia and Hungary respectively. Although finishing fourth in group B, the Americans will look to continue where they had left off after the prelims game three in order to top their previous result at the Olympic Games. Croatia meanwhile is one of the toughest opponents they could meet in the quarter-finals. The recent FINA World League winners are showing great form in London, are still unbeaten and full of confidence going into the play-off stage of the tournament. Shooters Miho Boskovic and Sandro Sukno have the hot hand while centre-forward Niksa Dobud and goalie Josip Pavic showed to be ready as well. The experienced group, just like the Americans being together quite a few years now, are hoping their efforts will finally pay off with a top result at the 2012 Olympic Games. Looking at their play in the first five games, Croatia is one of the top teams to watch. XXX Olympic Games 2012 at London, Great Britain Schedule Day 11: Wednesday, 8 August - MEN 31. 14.30 Spain (3A) vs. Montenegro (2B) - Quarter-final 1 32. 15.50 Australia (4A) vs. Serbia (1B) - Quarter-final 2 33. 18.40 Italy (2A) vs. Hungary (3B) - Quarter-final 3 34. 20.00 Croatia (1A) vs. United States (4B)- Quarter-final 4 Upcoming matches Day 12: Thursday, 9 August - WOMEN 21. 14.30 Italy (L17) vs. Great Britain (L18) - Classification 7th - 8th place 22. 15.50 China (W17) vs. Russia (W18) - Classification 5th - 6th place 23. 18.40 Australia (L19) vs. Hungary (L20) - Bronze Medal Match 24. 20.00 USA (W19) vs. Spain (W20) - Gold Medal Match N. b: starting times are London local time Pictured: Montenegro's Boris Zlokovic will meet Spain yet again (top photo) while Hungary will look to repeat on beating Italy like they did in the battle for the bronze medal at the 2012 European championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands (bottom photo). Photos by Henk Swinkels.