The US women’s water polo team pushed around Brazil for most of Monday afternoon. Led by Ashleigh Johnson’s six saves, the Americans carried a shutout into the fourth quarter. Coach Adam Krikorian loved most of the game. It was the last part that annoyed him a bit. Maggie Steffens, Kiley Neushul, Makenzie Fischer and Kaleigh Gilchrist scored two goals apiece to help the U.S. to a big lead in a 13-3 victory, but Brazil scored the final three goals in the fourth.
“Not happy with how we played in the fourth quarter,” Krikorian said. “I know it’s a tough position to be in in some ways. But I thought we relaxed.”
The United States showed off its depth with nine different scorers. Melissa Seidemann got her first goal in Rio de Janeiro.
“We don’t know who is going to be the one who scores the goals in the game,” Fischer said, “and (you) just have to be ready to step up and take your shot.”
Next up for the world champions is Hungary, which went to penalty shots against Australia before emerging with a 13-11 win. Russia, a surprise 12-10 winner against Spain, takes on Italy in the second semifinal match on Wednesday at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium.
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.
“I can’t say enough about the Brazilian fans, though. I mean they’re awesome,” Krikorian said. “These were some of the best fans I’ve ever seen.”
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 year, but Hungary is brimming with confidence after reaching the semifinals 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 four years later.
“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.”
Russia rebounded nicely from Saturday’s 10-5 loss to Italy. Ekaterina Prokofyeva scored four times and Elvina Karimova had a big goal in the fourth period of Russia’s second victory in Rio.
Italy advanced with a 12-7 win against China in the last quarterfinal match. Roberta Bianconi led the way with three goals and Giulia Gorlero finished with 14 saves.
“I think we play better on defense,” Italy captain Tania di Mario said. “I think that to take Russia and all the other teams left we have to play better even on defense. This is our strength.”