ATHENS, Greece, August 24. After beating Russia by four, the U.S. women have been able to rest a bit before facing Italy in the semifinals at the Olympic Aquatic Centre Main Pool.
They have had three days off from competition, and some extra time to prepare for their World Championships rematch with Italy, which beat Hungary 8- 5 in the quarterfinals on August 22. In the other semifinal (6:15 p.m.) on Tuesday, defending Olympic gold-medalist Australia will take on Olympic host Greece, which beat Russia 7-4 in the other quarterfinal.
Team USA has some great history with the Italians. A year ago, the United States downed Italy 8-6 in the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, to earn its No. 1 world ranking. There have been several meetings between the U.S. women and the Italians since then, and most recently the U.S. beat Italy 10-6 in the Pre-Olympic Tournament championship in Gorizia, Italy, on Aug. 1. Italy's solid win over Hungary gives it some momentum and confidence coming into the semifinals. Tania di Mario let the Italians with three goals in the win, and Italy also has one of the most recognized centers in Europe in Giusy Malato. The animated goalie Francesca Conti also is a tough opponent in the cage for Italy, so the Italians always present a number of threats.
"I had no preference on who we play," U.S. coach Guy Baker said of the Italy-Hungary quarterfinal. "Anybody we play at this point in time its going to be tremendously difficult. Italy has their strengths and we have our strengths. It's going to be tough."
Since beating Italy at the 2003 World Championships, Team USA has posted a 3-1-1 record against the Italians in international tournament play. Those thee wins were all in the championship games of various tournaments, with the last tournament loss to Italy coming on Dec. 5, 2003 in the Holiday Cup in Los Alamitos, Calif. Team USA avenged that loss by meeting Italy again in the final of the tourney, and posted a 3-8 win over the Italians to win the crown.