Croatia showed why it is the favorite to win the gold medal at this summer’s Beijing Games by beating up Team USA, 6-2, in an exhibition.
From the start, Croatia, the No. 1-ranked team in the world, punished the host country.
Everyone saw, from those fans standing because the bleachers were full, to those peeking through the outside gate because they couldn’t get in, and to those on roofs because that was arguably the best view.
This was the hottest ticket in town, a line formed an hour before the 7 o’clock start. Many fans got turned away early and Croatia did the same to the Americans.
Croatia, last year’s FINA world champions, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening quarter and never looked back, using its staunch defense to control the entire 32-minute game.
The water belonged to the Croatians, even being down a man they showcased their stifling defense. The blankets Team USA used, no need for them. Its offense dried up well before it left the pool, going a dismal two for nine on the power play.
“Our six-on-five [advantage] was a real negative,” Team USA Coach Terry Schroeder said. “We played a little shaky at the start, gave up a few early goals. I think we were a little bit tentative with our shooting, especially after you miss the first couple [of shots].”
The handful of shots on target for Team USA were shoved away by Frano Vican, considered the world’s top goalie.
Vican easily batted balls away, even playfully tapping one up as if he were a setter in volleyball. The ball went to him. No one struck the ball hard his way.
Only once did Vican allow one past him, off a rebound by veteran center Ryan Bailey, a former UC Irvine star, at the 5:01 mark in the second.
Other than that, the passing lanes never opened for the Americans. They looked stuck on a congested 405 Freeway, no place to go, but just wait and try to skip a shot into the net, or watch a desperate shot go wide before the 30-second shot clock expired.