Australia slams "stupid" water polo referees

BEIJING Wed Aug 13, 2008 7:02am EDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - Australia were furious with the "stupid" referees after conceding an equalizer to Hungary with just four seconds left in the women's water polo preliminaries.

Seconds away from an almost certain semi-final place, the "Aussie stingers" had a player excluded for a foul and Hungary's Aniko Pelle took advantage to secure a 7-7 draw.

"The referees are arseholes," Australian coach Greg McFadden told reporters. "The Hungarian player has hold of us, and we get excluded. It's total rubbish as far as I am concerned."

With both teams winning their opening fixtures, the game was seen as the decider in Group B. The Group winners get an automatic semi-final place, with the runners-up facing the third place team from Group A in the quarter-final.

Australia just about had the edge in a very tight game, thanks to two goals each from the Rippon sisters, captain Melissa and Rebecca. But they squandered a two-goal lead in the final minutes after a brace from Pelle.

With much of the action going on beneath the surface water polo is a notoriously difficult game to referee, but McFadden had little sympathy with the officials.

"The players tried their hearts out for four quarters and the ref goes and kills it for them," he said.

Both teams are guaranteed at least a quarter-final spot after the Netherlands beat Greece 9-6 in the other group game.

FACE MASK

In the big Group A game, world champions United States were 22 seconds from victory against 2004 Olympic gold medalists Italy but had to settle for a draw.

Italy's formidable 220-pound (100-kg) centre-forward Elisa Casanova, who played in a white face mask after breaking her nose against Russia, leveled the scores at the death. But she may have to play the entire tournament in the batman-style mask.

"Elisa had problems swimming in the match, no air" said coach Mauro Maugeri. "She has a big heart and a big brain... she is very strong. For my team she is a very, very important player."

The Americans had been 2-0 down at the end of the first quarter and both coaches said they were satisfied with a draw, after winning their opening games in a competition which remains wide open.

Both are also guaranteed at least a quarter-final spot after up-and-coming China beat Russia 13-11 in a see-saw match in Group A in front of a partisan crowd.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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