Americans now shoot for bronze

Updated: August 24, 2004, 2:33 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- U.S. women's water polo coach Guy Baker was seething so much about an unusual call that he could barely speak. His world champion squad was too "crushed" to explain what happened.

Manuela Zanchi scored with two seconds remaining as Italy upset the Americans 6-5 in the Olympic semifinals.

"It's devastating," Baker said. "It's the Olympics. I think you should be really excited when it's all over or you should be crushed -- we're crushed.

"We've invested a lot in this and we thought we had a great opportunity."

The Americans led 4-2 in the final period, then found themselves trailing 5-4. They tied it on a lob by Ellen Estes with 1:11 remaining and had the ball back with 35 seconds to go.

While setting up for an attacking drive, referee Zoran Tomic called an offensive foul on the United States, giving Italy the last attacking chance.

After using up the clock, the Italians passed to Zanchi, who was wide open on the left, and she fired in the winner.

Baker said he couldn't understand the call in the last minute, noting that offensive fouls are only supposed to be called when the attacking team is in scoring position.

"We were never in a position to score, that call was made (with) enough time for them to come down and ... that's it," he said.

"In the history of my coaching career I've always made comments, and today I'm not going to comment. Hopefully that speaks for itself."

The Italians advance to the finals against Greece, a 6-2 winner over Australia later Tuesday.

The United States will face Australia for bronze in a rematch of the 2000 Olympics final won by the Aussies.

"I'm very shocked," said Brenda Villa, who was on the silver-medal team in Sydney. "Our goal was the gold medal, but that's gone. We came here for a medal and we must finish that -- only now it's for bronze."

Italian coach Pierluigi Formiconi said his lineup learned a lot from losing to the Americans in the world championship finals last summer in Barcelona. Their experience helped them remained calm when it mattered most.

"In the last period, we had the most patience," he said.

Tania di Mario, who scored twice, said the Italians played with "heart" against the bigger Americans.

"We did not play well at the beginning, we were a bit tense, but the will to win was pushing us on and we fought for it," she said. "We wanted our payback after Barcelona."

Italy and Greece did not qualify for Sydney, when women's water polo made its Olympic debut.

Greece was ninth in the last world championship and made a surprising run to the final of this tournament.

"It's a new game in the final," said Greek coach Kyriakos Iosifidis, speaking through a translator. "The players are all ready physically and mentally. The only thing we have to be afraid of is getting too excited."

Russia, bronze medalist at Sydney and at the 2003 world championships, scored twice in overtime to edge Hungary 12-11 for fifth place.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press