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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Left to Play the Crying Game

Women's water polo team fumes over lost chance as Italy wins, 6-5, on goal in final seconds.

August 25, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — They can talk all they want about bad calls, bad luck, and quite simply, bad karma -- as in Sydney revisited -- but the U.S. women, with a berth in the gold-medal Olympic water polo game hanging in the balance, did have a two-goal lead heading into the final period of their game against Italy on Tuesday.

It wasn't enough.

So, the U.S. will be playing Australia on Thursday for a bronze medal.

Four years ago in Sydney, that was the championship matchup and it ended in a massive controversy, Australia winning in the final two seconds on a questionable goal.

Tuesday's game was similar.

With 2.8 seconds remaining, Manuela Zanchi scored from the left side, giving Italy a 6-5 victory in the semifinals.

"You should either be excited when it's all over or you should just be crushed," U.S. Coach Guy Baker said. "And we're crushed. We've invested a lot in this and we thought we had a great opportunity."

His players were devastated. Heather Moody, her eyes red and wet, stood and tried but couldn't really explain what happened.

They took a 4-2 lead into the final period, gave up three goals, then tied the score with a goal by Ellen Estes with 1:11 left and had the ball with 35 seconds to go.

Then, with 18 seconds remaining, Croatian referee Zoran Tomic called an offensive foul on Brenda Villa. The Italians ran the clock, then got the ball to a wide-open Zanchi, who drilled the winner.

Baker had little to say about the offensive foul, though he had voiced his displeasure to Tomic.

"From my interpretation, what we're told, as far as with an offensive foul, it has to be in a position where someone is going to score a goal," Baker said. "That's what we're told. From my perspective, I never saw we were in position to score a goal.

"It looked like we were trying to clear through on a drive and there was still enough time for them to come down."

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

Estes said the officiating was a continuing problem.

"Whenever you seem to be doing well, it seems that the referee wants to make it tough," she said. "They never want to see someone come away with it too much. You know from playing for years that whenever you get up, you're probably going to have it taken away from you."

Said Villa: "We can't do anything about the calls that were made.... It's harder to make those calls if we're executing in our end."

And Italy finished strong, scoring four goals in the final seven minutes.

This was a rematch of last summer's world championship final, which the U.S. won, and Italy Coach Pierluigi Formiconi lamented that this was not the gold-medal game. Italy will play Greece in Thursday's final.

"What we saw today was a real Olympic final," Formiconi said. "This was the real final."

Baker was asked whether this was Sydney all over again.

"Oh, it's a lot different," he said. "Because I can't say what I feel right now."

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