Americans to take frustrations out on Aussies

Updated: August 26, 2004, 11:17 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Struggling to find something positive out of an upset semifinal loss to Italy, U.S. center Ellen Estes decided that playing for an Olympic water polo bronze medal was a chance to blow off some frustration.

Italy edged the world champion U.S. team 6-5, with Manuela Zanchi firing the winner with two seconds remaining in the semis.

That pushed the Americans into Thursday's bronze medal match against the Australians, who beat them 4-3 in the Sydney 2000 final. Yvette Higgins scored Australia's winner with 1.7 seconds left in regulation in Sydney.

Estes has waited a full four years for an Olympic rematch with Australia. She plans to take out her disappointment for the latest last-ditch loss to Italy on the Aussies.

"Definitely, this team comes to play. Every day we have a game, we'll be ready," Estes said. "All the teams here -- anyone can beat anyone. We saw it in the bracket play when Australia beat Italy on the first day, so we won't have any problem focusing on the bronze."

Estes scored three goals in the 2003 world championship final against the Italians, and 13 in all at the tournament.

Her first goal in Athens with 1:11 remaining pulled the Americans even at 5-5. But it wasn't quite enough.

Now the Italians face a Greek team that has been inspired by the home crowd.

The main pool at the Aquatic Center will be packed with almost 13,000 fans cheering wildly for the home team in the gold medal decider. The match will be broadcast live on local TV and tickets will be at a premium. Organizers were expecting to reclaim hundreds of seats designated for noncompeting athletes to make extra room for the Greek crowd.

The Americans will be playing Australia in the match preceding the final. They're 0-2 in Olympic competition against Australia, racking up both losses in Sydney.

Australian captain Naomi Castle warned that her team's No. 7 ranking isn't a valid gauge of its strength because it peaks for the Olympics.

"We're playing for bronze, and third at the Olympics isn't bad," said Mel Rippon, one of 10 Olympic rookies on the Australian roster. "Just because it's not a gold medal game, doesn't make it any less significant for us."

Greece has had the kind of support here that the Australians enjoyed in Sydney.

Most times. the Greeks have been in possession, the crowds have erupted into a chorus of "Hellas, Hellas, Hellas!" Hellenic flags are waved around frenetically.

The Greeks advanced from the so-called weaker bracket with a 1-1-1 record, behind Australia (2-0-1) and Italy (2-1). They knocked off Sydney bronze medalist Russia in the quarterfinals and then Australia.

"Our goal was to qualify for the semifinals. We achieved that, so we played without stress and we're in the final," said Aikaterini Oikonomopoulou. "I dedicate this to everybody who believed in us, as well as those who didn't, because now they will believe in us."

In men's quarterfinals Wednesday, Russia got three goals apiece from Revaz Chomakhidze, Alexander Eryshov and Marat Zakirov in a 12-5 demolition of Germany and advanced to a semifinal against defending champion Hungary in a rematch of the 2000 final.

Aleksandar Sapic scored three goals as Sydney bronze medalist Serbia-Montenegro beat 1996 champion Spain 7-5 and moved into a semifinal against Greece.

In classification rounds, Australia beat Kazakhstan 10-5 and will meet the Americans on Friday. The winner of that match will play off for seventh place and the loser will vie for ninth.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press