U.S. loses out on gold, but posts best Olympic finish since 1988

Updated: August 24, 2008, 6:24 AM ET
Reuters

BEIJING -- Water polo powerhouse Hungary battled to a thrilling 14-10 victory over the United States on Sunday to win its third successive Olympic gold medal.

In an entertaining match from start to finish, Hungary had its sternest test in years against a U.S. team searching for a fairytale end to its best Olympic competition since 1988 in Seoul.

[+] EnlargeTony Azevedo
Greg Wood/Getty ImagesTony Azevedo scored four goals for the United States in Sunday's gold-medal match.

Playing in a pressure-cooker atmosphere at the Yingdong Natatorium, the two teams were almost inseparable until the final quarter.

Tied at 9 at the end of the first half, Hungary came out fighting in the third period and edged ahead through Tamas Molnar.

The United States spurned a string of opportunities, with shots cannoning against the woodwork and going wide of target. Tony Azevedo led the Americans with four goals.

Hungary showed its class with swift counter-attacking and a solid defense before Daniel Rudolf Varga blasted home two goals to put the match beyond the United States.

"It was painful to lose like that," U.S. coach Terry Schroeder said. "The team has been great. No one expected them to do this here. They [have] so much to be proud of."

Ranked ninth heading into the Games, the United States had not reached an Olympic final in 20 years and stunned its opponents throughout the group and knockout stages.

"Nobody wants to be second place, nobody likes losing their last game," said U.S. driver Peter Varellas. "We had a great run in this tournament and we just didn't finish the deal."

The victory earned Hungary its ninth Olympic men's water polo gold medal.