BEIJING (Reuters) - Water polo powerhouse Hungary battled to a thrilling 14-10 victory over the United States on Sunday to win their third successive Olympic gold medal.
In an entertaining match from start to finish, Hungary had their sternest test in years against a U.S. team searching for a fairytale end to their best Olympics in two decades.
“It was the most difficult gold medal for us, we’re really happy,” Hungary coach Denes Kemeny told reporters.
“This was more satisfying than the other two gold medals. Millions of Hungarians saw this. This is an amazing achievement.
“Even in difficulty, we believed we could come out of it. We defended better, that was the key, but we were very worried.”
Playing in a pressure-cooker atmosphere at the Yingdong Natatorium, the two teams were almost inseparable until the final quarter.
Tied at 9-9 at the end of the first half, Hungary came out fighting in the third period and edged ahead through Tamas Molnar.
The United States spurned a string of opportunities, with shots cannoning against the woodwork and going wide of target.
Hungary showed their class with swift counter attacking and a solid defence before Daniel Rudolf Varga blasted home two superbly taken goals to put the match beyond the United States.
At the final whistle, the Hungarian players and staff embraced and leapt into the pool as thousands of fans celebrated.
The victory earned Hungary their ninth Olympic men’s water polo gold medal.
“It was painful to lose like that,” U.S. coach Terry Schroeder said.
“The team have been great. No one expected them to do this here. They have so much to be proud of.”
Ranked ninth going into the Games, the United States had not reached an Olympic final since the 1988 Seoul Games and stunned their opponents throughout the group and knockout stages.
“Nobody wants to be second place, nobody likes losing their last game,” said U.S. driver Peter Varellas.
“We had a great run in this tournament and we just didn’t finish the deal.”
(Editing by Ralph Gowling)
2008 Olympics at: www.reuters.com/news/sports/2008olympics; blog at: blogs.reuters.com/china