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Water polo: Italy face Croatia for gold after upset
LONDON (Reuters) - Italy defeated tournament favorites Serbia 9-7 in the semi-finals of the men's water polo tournament, setting up a gold-medal match against Croatia and leaving their beaten opponents fighting for the bronze for the second Olympics in a row.
The Italian victory upset the Balkan countries' grip on the competition, which had looked to have been heading for a showdown between two former Yugoslavian countries, after Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia dominated its early stages.
Croatia put on a strong defensive display to beat Montenegro 7-5 earlier on Friday and book their place in an Olympic final for first time since 1996.
In the later match, the Italians upstaged Serbia, who failed to convert their attacking chances and found themselves thwarted by the Italian's impenetrable goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti.
"We said at the beginning of the game, don't fall into their traps," said Italy's Pietro Figlioli.
"They want to wrestle and make it into a physical match whereas our strong point is our movement, our velocity, our counter attacks and we walked all over them with our game."
Serbia, who had been tipped to go all the way and like Croatia and Montenegro are renowned for their physical style of water polo, were shocked by an Italian surge from the start and trailed for the rest of the match.
"This is a huge shock, because we were favorites for this game," said Serbia's Slobodan Nikic, who praised Tempesti's performance in goal.
The match on Friday was a repeat of the outcome of last year's world championships, when Italy beat Serbia in extra time to win the title. The Italians are now guaranteed a medal, their first in the men's game for 16 years.
"I told you that each match we would play better and better, and this is what has happened. (The Serbian team was) very strong physically, but we play very clever tactically," said the Italian coach Alessandro Campagna.
The gold medal clash on Sunday is a re-run of a group stage match which Croatia won comfortably 11-6.
Serbia's bronze medal match against Montenegro is a repeat of the third place match in Beijing, where Serbia prevailed. The two drew when they met in the preliminary round of this tournament.
"Italy were better and stronger. All credit to them. Now we have to fight for third place, for the bronze medal and it is going to be difficult," said Serbia's Filip Filipovic.
"At the moment, we are emotionally and physically flat but we have to try one more time."
(editing by Michael Holden)
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