It looks like a rematch between the rookies and the veterans in women’s water polo. Only this time it’s for the gold.
Still undefeated in their first Olympics, the upstart Spaniards beat Hungary on Tuesday to earn a spot in Thursday’s finals. They will face local favorite Annika Dries and the Americans, who are the only team to medal in all three previous games since women’s water polo was introduced in 2000 at Sydney. Spain and Team USA battled to a 9-9 tie in earlier group play.
It took an extra six minutes on Tuesday for the Americans to secure their third finals appearance in four Olympics, thanks to an unfortunate call against USA Coach Adam Krikorian, who signaled for a time out with one second to play in regulation with his team up 9-8. The problem was Team USA didn’t have possession of the ball at the time. By rule, Australia was awarded a penalty shot, which they converted to send the game into overtime.
The “time out” controversy only added to the intense rivalry between the two teams, which started when the Aussies took gold from the Americans in Sydney. The rivalry continued in Athens, where Team USA beat Australia in the bronze medal match. And in a repeat of Beijing four years ago, the Americans have again sent the Aussies to the bronze medal game in London, where they will meet Hungary.
The Americans were in a hole before they knew what hit them, as Australia scored two quick goals in just over three minutes. Team USA struggled to find its offense early, as five minutes passed before they even got their first shot off.
They cut the deficit in half on a skip goal by Courtney Mathewson with 1:30 left in the first period. Lauren Wenger followed that with a lob shot that ricocheted off the right post, hit the Aussie goalkeeper in the back of the head, and wound up in goal to tie the game at two. From that point on, the two teams traded goals, with Team USA clinging to a slim 6-5 lead at the halfway point.
As they have throughout these games, the Americans came out in the second half with a renewed sense of urgency on defense. For the remaining 22 minutes, including the two three-minute overtime periods, Team USA did not give up a goal while at full strength.
The Aussies scored one power-play goal in the third and two in the fourth before the controversial penalty shot with one second to go in regulation tied the score. They were held scoreless in overtime; as the Americans were able to play keep away on offense to kill the clock after scoring two quick goals at the beginning of the first extra period.
Seven Americans scored, led by Maggie Steffens with four goals, bringing her Olympic total to 16 in five games.