Australia’s water polo men have battled back from two goals down to claim a 5-5 draw with European heavyweights Montenegro at the world championships in Kazan, Russia.
The Sharks employed a stifling defence against the 2013 silver medallists but couldn’t convert their many chances in attack. Shots either hit the frame or too often speared high or wide before a final quarter comeback that netted three quickfire goals.
Australia actually looked the goods at a goal up inside the final minute but Montenegro were able to level with 22 seconds remaining.
Australia will now need to pull something out of the bag against tournament favourites Serbia on Friday in order to advance.
Montenegro struck first blood after converting a dubious 5m penalty halfway through the first quarter before extending their lead to 2-0 with an extra-man strike.
The European side scored first in the second stanza too, an extra-man shot desperately deflected by Australian defender Nathan Power, unluckily diverting past keeper James Stanton-French.
Johnno Cotterill replied for the Sharks a minute later with a rocket from the top of the offensive set-up and at the halftime break Montenegro led 3-1.
Australia came out firing in the third quarter, Aaron Younger delivering from seven metres after 28 seconds before Montenegro struck back with a tap-in on the post in extra-man three minutes later.
They were the only two goals of the term, leaving Montenegro ahead 4-2.
Younger got the scoreboard ticking 17 seconds into the last quarter with another laser from outside after a series of slick passes from two of Australia’s most experienced players, Rhys Howden and Richie Campbell.
Within 60 seconds AJ Roach had scored again for Australia with a cross-cage strike in transition, before he and Younger combined in extra-man for the latter to thrust the Sharks into the lead for the first time a minute later.
The Australians couldn’t put the nail in the coffin however and Montenegro scored on a Hail Mary lob as the shot and game clocks ran down.
A desperate last possession for Australia failed to yield a goal, despite the appearance of what could have been a 5m penalty in their favour.
The draw follows Australia’s 10-4 opening match defeat of Japan.
Serbia meanwhile beat Montenegro 11-8 earlier in the week and the Australians will now be aiming to upset them or at the very least finish close enough to give them second place in their group on goal difference. Montenegro will take on Japan also on Friday.
The winner of the group has a day off on Sunday and are guaranteed a quarterfinal spot next week. Second place will take on the third in the crossover group games.
The Stingers will be the next Australian team in the water when they take on the Netherlands to decide the winner of their group on Thursday night (3.10am AEST, Friday).