RIO DE JANEIRO — For all the talk about the team’s potent attack, the No. 1 priority for the U.S. women’s water polo team is defense.
For three quarters on Monday, the Americans were so good that Brazil struggled to find a shot. The fourth period was a different story as Brazil scored the last three goals of the game in a 13-3 victory for the U.S. in the quarterfinals.
Next up for the world champions is Hungary, which went to penalty shots against Australia before emerging with a 13-11 win. The lackluster finish for the U.S. prompted coach Adam Krikorian to call for a more complete effort from his team as it heads into the semifinals.
“Not happy with how we played in the fourth quarter,” he said. “I know it’s a tough position to be in in some ways. But I thought we relaxed.”
Ashleigh Johnson made six saves and the U.S. had nine different scorers in the victory.
The U.S. led 10-0 after three, and Sami Hill replaced Johnson in net for the fourth. Brazil’s late run delighted another supportive crowd.
The U.S. stretched its win streak to 20 games, including four victories in Rio by a combined score of 47-16. The London gold medalists beat Hungary 11-5 on Saturday after sweeping a three-game series against the country earlier this summer, but Hungary is brimming with confidence after reaching the semis for the third straight Olympics.
“Everybody’s beatable,” Hungary center back Orsolya Takacs said.
Hungary trailed Australia 5-3 at halftime, and Orsolya Kaso replaced Edina Gangl in goal at the start of the second half. After captain Bronwen Knox made it 8-6 Australia with 5:53 remaining, Barbara Bujka and Dora Antal responded for Hungary.
“We got our defense together for the second half of the match when we changed our goalkeeper,” Hungary’s Ildiko Toth said through a translator. “We had left Edina alone for too much of the match, so we needed to swap things around and be stronger without the ball.”
Knox threw one off the cage on her penalty shot, leaving the door open. Dora Czigany and Antal then converted their attempts, closing it out for Hungary.
Australia had made it to the semifinals in the previous four Olympics, including the first gold medal for women’s water polo in 2000. It beat Hungary in the bronze-medal match in each of the last two Games, going to penalty shots in 2008 and overtime in London in 2012.
“It comes down to a few millimeters here and there, a few opportunities that they ended up putting away and they got back into the game,” Australia’s Rowie Webster said, “and then as soon as you get into penalties it’s anyone’s game from there.”
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