Stanford grad and Team USA men's national water polo team captain Tony Azevedo knows his younger teammates will learn from their first experience in the FINA World League Super Final. He's confident they will be competitive come time for the Olympics, six weeks away.
"For the younger guys, this is their first Super Final and Olympic Games," Azevedo said after the Americans dropped a 10-8 decision to the defending champions Serbia in pool play action Thursday in Huizhou, China. "We're a young team but I think we can beat any team in the world."
Friday's winner will play either Greece or China in Saturday's semifinal.
After falling behind, 8-4, at halftime, the Americans rallied to come within 9-8 with five minutes remaining, though that was as close as they got.
"In the first half we made some unexpected errors and gave Serbia the lead," U.S. coach Dejan Udovicic said. "We tried hard to catch up but it was too late."
Team USA held early leads of 1-0, thanks to a goal from Stanford grad Alex Bowen, and 2-1, after Azevedo connected on a power play.
"We gave up too much on defense and allowed too many counter attacks," Azevedo said. "We started using our speed better, played better defense and controlled the offense in the second half."
Bowen and incoming Stanford freshman Ben Hallock each scored twice for the Americans, who played without Cardinal grad Bret Bonanni, still bothered by an illness.
"We started slow, for sure," Azevedo said. "We had some opportunities and could not put them away. Facing Serbia, the best team in the world, you could see how close we are."