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Americans now shoot for bronze

8/24/2004

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.