Serbia, Croatia, Spain, Hungary make semifinals

Updated: March 28, 2007, 9:38 AM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Neighboring rivals Serbia and Croatia will play in the men's water polo semifinals at the world championships after posting easy quarterfinal wins Wednesday.

Defending champions Serbia beat Greece 8-3 while Croatia defeated Russia 13-3 at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, setting up a repeat of the teams' semifinal at the world titles in Montreal in 2005.

In the other semifinal, Spain, a 7-5 winner over Italy, will face Hungary, which downed Germany 13-6.

And there's an added concern for Friday's match -- Melbourne's large and vocal Serbian and Croatian communities that clashed as recently as January at the Australian Open tennis tournament.

Croatian and Serbian spectators kicked each other and used flag poles as weapons during brief scuffles on the first day of the Australian Open.

Police and private security guards at the year's first Grand Slam event ejected 150 people from the Melbourne Park venue after the violence, which organizers, players and community leaders condemned.

No injuries were reported and no arrests were made.

Two groups of mostly male youths dressed in the colors of the former rivals in a bitter early-1990s war chanted slogans and yelled insults at each other near a lawn area where a giant television screen was set up for spectators.

Serbian and Croatian community groups blamed each other for the trouble.

On Wednesday, Serbian water polo player Slobodan Nikic, who scored one of his team's goals, said he expected that supporters from both teams would pack the aquatic center for Friday's semifinal.

"That game is always very hard for us," Nikic said. "They are now a very good team, so we can expect both sides to have a lot of fans in the crowd for that match."

Croatian player Samir Barac agreed the match against Serbia could become heated.

"It will be an intense match, we've played against each other for a long time," Barac said. "Outside of the pool we are professional athletes and we respect each other. Inside the pool it's a different story."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press