Unfancied U.S. storms into water polo semis

BEIJING Mon Aug 18, 2008 8:03am EDT

1 of 8. Peter Varellas of the U.S. (2nd R) and team mates celebrate during their men's preliminary round Group B water polo match against Germany at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Surprise package the United States pulled off a stunning 8-7 victory over Germany on Monday to reach the final four of the men's Olympic water polo tournament for the first time in 16 years.

The U.S. finished top of Group B and join Olympic powerhouse Hungary, who crushed Canada 12-3 to win the other pool.

"It was a dogfight, like all the games, but the whole time, we believed we would win," U.S. driver Layne Beaubien said amid wild celebrations at a packed Yingdong Natatorium.

"We're always thinking we can win, we refuse to lose. We've not been able to get it together for a major tournament but it's happening now."

The U.S. was ninth in the world before the Games and last appeared on the podium as silver medalists at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Spurred on by a vibrant traveling support, Hungary dominated their match, outclassing Canada with slick passing and speedy counter-attacks to move within two games of a third successive gold medal.

"We were much stronger than Canada, but we had to prove it and play well," towering Hungarian forward Gergely Kiss said.

"We have all our fans here. We have to put on a great show for them," added Kiss, two-times Olympic gold medalist and trainee lawyer.

The two group winners earn automatic semi-final places while second and third-placed teams in each pool must contest the quarter-finals.

Montenegro, the silver medalists at the 2004 Games while competing with Serbia, clung on in the dying minutes of its decisive match with Australia to earn a 5-5 draw and a quarter-final spot.

"It was so close, it was our last chance," Montenegro coach Petar Porobic said. "We had to stay in the game."

Serbia also progressed to the quarter-finals, despite going down 13-12 in a thrilling Group B battle with Italy.

They were joined by Spain, who beat Greece 10-6, and Croatia, who thrashed China 16-4.

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)

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