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Third Place Is Best U.S. Team Can Finish

Water polo: Italy's strong defensive effort results in 6-5 semifinal victory over Americans.

July 18, 1999|LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Italy's solid defense derailed the U.S. national water polo team's hopes of being in today's finals of the UPS International Cup.

Instead, Team USA will play for third place in the eight-team tournament after a 6-5 loss to Italy in the semifinals Saturday at Corona del Mar High.

Russia, which was beaten by the U.S. on Friday in round-robin play, handed Yugoslavia its first loss, 7-5, in the other semifinal, and will meet Italy for the title at 3:30 today. The U.S.-Yugoslavia game begins at 2.

"It's disappointing because you want to do well at home," said U.S. team captain Chris Oeding. "But Italy is a good team. They won the '92 Olympics, and they're always tough. Let's just hope we take this as a learning experience."

Italy, fifth in the 1998 FINA World Championships, turned in a strong defensive effort, shutting out Chris Humbert, who had scored 12 goals in three previous U.S. victories.

The U.S. was only three for 10 in man-advantage opportunities and needed 13 saves from goalkeeper Dan Hackett to stay close.

"We had our chances, but we failed to take advantage of them," Oeding said. "We tried to rely on our arms, not our tactics. We tried to beat them with just good shots, and it shows that we can't win that way."

Italy was particularly aggressive against Humbert, who had scored three goals against Russia but had only three shots Saturday.

"I just didn't get the ball much," Humbert said. "They took me out of the game. But it seemed like the whole game was in slow motion. There weren't many counter-attacks by either team."

Humbert was disappointed his team didn't match its strong performance against Russia. "We played terrible, but we still lost by only one goal against one of the world's best teams," he said.

Team USA Coach John Vargas also was disappointed. "We're a good team," he said. "We just didn't show it today. We didn't attack the way we need to attack. We missed opportunities to get Humbert the ball."

The U.S. trailed, 3-1, at halftime, but came back to lead twice by a goal in the third quarter. The score was tied, 5-5, at the end of the quarter. Italy's Antonio Vittorioso scored the winning goal early in the fourth. Kyle Kopp was the only U.S. player with two goals.

"We'll probably learn more from this loss than if we had won, and it will help us get ready for the Pan American Games," Vargas said. "You just hate to have it happen at home in your tournament."

In other games:

Russia 7, Yugoslavia 5--Sergei Yevstigneyev scored two goals to lead a balanced Russian attack. Nenad Vukanic had two goals for Yugoslavia.

Brazil 12, Puerto Rico 4--Brazil scored three goals in each quarter. George Chaia, Richard Perrone and Henry Rabello each had two goals for Brazil.

Australia 22, Mexico 0--Daniel Marsden scored five goals, four of them on power plays, to lead Australia. Sean Boyd had four.

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