Canberra Times

Sharks to attack world champions

Australian Sharks water polo coach John Fox says world champions Italy have more reason to be apprehensive than his own players as they prepare for Sunday's blockbuster opening-round showdown at the London Olympics.

Fox was quick to claim the underdog tag, despite Australia's encouraging 10-9 victory against the Italians at the Vodafone Cup in Hungary two weeks ago.Far from being intimidated by taking on one of the world's heavyweight outfits, Fox said it was an ideal way for the Sharks to launch their campaign.

''They're going to be nervous,'' Fox said.

''They're world champions but the pressure's going to be on them. For us, we're the hunters and we're going to go in primed for that game.

''The challenge is fantastic.The guys are looking forward to it already. It's not daunting by any stretch of the imagination. We're going in to have a real crack.''

Fox said a first-up win would ''set the tone'' for Australia, who finished eighth at the Beijing Olympics.

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''It's a great opportunity,'' he said. ''The game is sold out already. We're struggling to get tickets for family and supporters, but the game will be on television and it will be worldwide and what a great way to start the Olympics.''

Australia's win in Budapest, which was inspired by four goals from Newcastle centre back Richie Campbell, ended a string of narrow losses to Italy, who along with defending Olympic champions Hungary are regarded as one of the main threats in London.

''Even last year when they [Italy] won the world championships, we lost in the last minute of the game to them in Italy by a goal,'' Fox said.

''Before that we beat them in the world champs. We've had some results against them. They've obviously had some very good results in the last 12 months, but we match up quite well.''

Fox said Australia would need to win at least two of their five group games to make the elimination rounds but felt five victories was a realistic goal.

''Absolutely,'' he said. ''You approach every game with a different strategy but the aim is to produce a winning result.

''We're expecting to perform well in every game we play.''

Fox said making the transitiion from also-rans to medallists would not require a quantum leap. ''They're one-goal games, bascially,'' Fox said.

''It's about making that one goal count in our favour. It's been a similar tale for the last couple of years. We know we can match it with all the best teams in the world, but we've just got to turn some of those results that go against us, even the draws, into victories.''

He predicted the teams with the greatest depth of talent would prevail.

''More so than any other competition we play in,'' he said.

''It's the longest event in terms of the number of days we play. We've chosen the best 13 in Australia who we think can do the job, and I've got complete faith in the the players you would consider the bench-type players.

''They'll be playing a very important role. With injuries, but fatigue as well, it's vital to have that depth. And that's why we've been through such an intense conditioning phase leading into it.

''You want to be playing well at the end of the tournament, when the results mean medals, and if you haven't got a bench who can deliver for you throughout the tournament then basically you'll run out of fuel.''

The Sharks had a day off yesterday and left the athletes' village to enjoy a chance of scenery and recharge their batteries.