Spain's Ivan Perez Vargas pumped his fists and screamed. His coach raised his arms in celebration. And all throughout the arena, red- and gold-clad Spanish fans waived their flags and roared.
Spain coach Rafael Aguilar Morillo appeals to referees to allow the final goal (Getty Images)Yes, all the signs were there that Perez-Vargas had tied Tuesday's preliminary-round water polo match between Spain and Croatia in the final seconds with one glaring exception: Referees ruled the goal did not count.
With his back to the goal and less than five seconds remaining in the match, Perez Vargas had whipped a shot that deflected off the Croatian goalie's outstretched arm and appeared to cross the line to level the score at 8-8. The line judge initially called it a goal, but referee Boris Margeta of Slovenia overruled the decision, preserving Croatia's 8-7 victory.
[Photos: Olympic water polo action]
"We're really upset because everyone saw it was a goal and I don't know why he (the referee) can't change the decision," Spain's Felipe Perrone told reporters after the match. "The crowd saw that it was a goal, so I feel really bad about it."
Like in soccer, the ball must fully cross the goal line in water polo for it to count as a goal. The Croatian goalie reached back to try to prevent the ball from crossing the line and then gave a Dikembe Mutumbo-esque finger wag in the direction of the Spanish bench, but TV replays appeared to show the goal should have counted.
The controversial call sparked a furious protest from the Spanish team, which was trying to rally from an 8-4 third-quarter deficit.
[Related: Serbia upsets champion Hungary in water polo]
Amid whistles and chants of "Goal, Goal, Goal" from the Spanish crowd, coach Rafael Aguilar Morillo ran around the pool to appeal to Margeta, the whole time gesturing at the video screen that showed replays of the shot. Members of the Spanish team swam to that side of the pool, pointed at the replays and urged the fans to get even louder.
In the end, the complaints did no good, so Spain has appealed the decision to the FINA technical committee.
The chances of Spain winning that appeal are likely slim, but they can take some solace that this was merely a preliminary-round game.
Croatia sits atop Group A with four points from two matches. Spain is two points behind, but they remain a strong contender to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.
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