LONDON -- Peter Varellas scored three goals Sunday to lead the United States over Montenegro 8-7 in Olympic men's water polo.
U.S. captain Tony Azevedo scored from distance with less than a minute to play to put the Americans ahead 8-6, but Vladimir Gojkovic answered 10 seconds later to pull back within a goal.
Montenegro then had possession with 17 seconds to play but couldn't get off a shot before time expired.
"We went up on them early and kind of let them back into it, made it a little closer in the end than we would have hoped," Varellas said. "Going up two goals under a minute you should be pretty comfortable. We let them get that quick goal, maybe a mental lapse, but we were able to finish in the end which is what matters most."
The win puts the U.S., which has 10 players from the squad that took silver four years ago in Beijing, at the top of Group B along with Romania and gold medal-favorite Serbia.
The United States hasn't won gold in water polo since the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis. The Americans have finished second three times -- in 1984 in Los Angeles, in Seoul, South Korea, four years later, and at the 2008 Beijing Games.
But this team has high hopes in London, and with 10 players from the squad that took silver four years ago, the Americans have their sights set on going one better.
It's that experience, said goalkeeper Merrill Moses, that helped when Montenegro rallied to within a goal.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Moses said. "At halftime we said, 'This game is not over.' [After] the third quarter we said, 'This game is not over, keep going.' That's what this veteran team is all about. We've been in all these situations before, we're prepared for it and we executed well."
The U.S. plays Romania, which beat Britain 13-4 earlier Sunday, in their next match on Tuesday.