TOP YUGOSLAV WATER POLO PLAYers had a choice going into this year:
They could either sign with a European club team for big money or
play for Olympic coach Ratko Rudic. Most chose the amiable but
demanding Rudic.
Rudic wanted players who could train as a unit starting in late
'87. That ruled out two key members of his reigning world and Olympic
championship squad: high-scoring driver/two-meter man Milivoj Bebic
and goalie Milorad Krivokapic, both of whom now play in Italy. For
most teams the loss of two such players would be devastating. In this
case, however, it means Yugoslavia will be only co-favorites for the
gold medal in Seoul, along with the Soviet Union. The Yugoslavs
continually replenish their lineup with talent developed in their own
vigorous club system.
The Yugoslavs like to feed the ball to their two-meter man, the
player stationed about two meters in front of the cage in a role more
or less equivalent to that of a basketball center. The team has
veritable twin towers at the position: 6 ft. 4 in. Igor Milanovic,
24, and 6 ft. 9 in. Tomislav Paskvalin, 27. The Yugoslavs also have a
formidable outside attack that features team captain Vaselin Djuho,
27, and newcomer Igor Gocanin, 20.
Like Yugoslavia, the U.S.S.R., ranked No. 2 in the world, has a
physical team with a grab-and-shove style. The Soviets, who upset the
Yugoslavs at the 1987 European championships, will put up a tight
defense spearheaded by two- meter/defender Georgy Mshvenieradze and
goalie Evgeny Sharonov. To reach the four-team medal round, the
U.S.S.R. will have to defeat Italy (ranked No. 3) or troublesome West
Germany, or both.
Yugoslavia is in an unpredictable bracket with Hungary, Spain and
the No. 4- ranked U.S. Hungary, which has won 12 Olympic water polo
medals, almost twice as many as any other country, has an improving
young team that tied the Soviets in an exhibition game in May. The
even younger Spanish squad could be a Seoul spoiler. Spain is led by
the flashy Manuel Estiarte, 27, the leading scorer at the Los Angeles
Olympics and in every major international tournament since then.
That leaves the Games' sleeper team, the U.S., which has five
returning starters from the 1984 Olympic silver medal team. The
Americans have arguably the world's best goalie in Craig Wilson, 31,
and perhaps the deepest corps of two-meter men, among them veterans
Terry Schroeder, the team captain, and all- around standout Jody
Campbell, both 28. Wilson, the starting goalie on the '84 Olympic
team and on the gold-medal team at the '87 Pan Am Games, has led
every major international tournament in saves since 1984.
Several foreign coaches feel the U.S. may have the most talented
team at Seoul. All the Americans need is consistency, and they may
have developed that; they have been in full-time training under coach
Bill Barnett for 4 1/2 months.
Yugoslavia and the U.S. fought to a 5-5 tie in the final at the
'84 Games, but the Yugoslavs were awarded the gold medal based on
goal differential. The two teams will meet in the first round at
Seoul, and the U.S. will be out for revenge. But don't underestimate
Rudic & Co. The '84 champs still look good in '88.