Semifinal 1 – Italy 12, Russia 9
Italy’s women’s water polo team finished sixth in the 2008 Olympics, and seventh in 2012.
In Rio, they’re guaranteed at least second.
After running through group play and the quarterfinals unscathed, Italy continued to win, defeating Russia 12-9 in the semifinals Wednesday morning to clinch their spot in Friday’s gold medal game.
Italy did what they’ve done all tournament – played great defense and scored just enough to win. They Italians allowed just 22 goals in their previous four games. Although Russia was able to put up nine, it was the Italian offense, led by Arianna Garibotti, that did what was needed to move on.
Garibotti led all scorers with five goals on six shots. Teammate Roberta Bianconi added two goals, both on penalty shots.
After finishing the first quarter tied 2-2, Italy started to jump ahead in the second, scoring twice in the final two minutes to take a 6-4 lead into halftime.
The Italian defense did its job in the third quarter, holding Russia scoreless on just two shot attempts.
Italy never allowed Russia to get closer than two goals in the second half. Down 9-5 midway through the fourth, Russia tried to mount a comeback, getting two goals from Evgeniya Ivanova and Ekaterina Prokofyeva on an extra player shot.
Russia again tried to cut into the lead when Anna Grineva flicked a shot in from just in front of the goal on another extra player shot with two minutes remaining.
But when Italy came back down the pool, Bianconi picked up an exclusion in front of the goal, allowing a penalty shot that landed in the corner of the goal, and ultimately landed Italy in the gold medal game.
A shot from close to half-pool from Elisa Queirolo with a minute remaining put Italy up four goals, and Russia’s last hope shot as the clock wound down still wasn’t enough.
This will be just the second trip to the gold medal game for Italy’s women’s water polo team, where they’ll take on the winner of the United States and Hungary. Whether they win gold or silver, it will be just the second medal won by the Italian women’s team all time. Italy won gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Russia will play in the bronze medal match Friday against the loser of Hungary and the United States. If they win, it will be just the second medal won by the Russian women in the Olympics. Russia also won bronze at the 2000 Olympics, the first time women’s water polo was played in the Games.
The gold medal game will take place Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET. The bronze medal game will take place Friday at 10:20 a.m. ET.
Other Wednesday matches:
Australia 11, Brazil 4
Australia had a disappointing finish to their Rio medal hopes, falling to Hungary in the quarterfinals. The Australians bounced back with a win over Brazil Wednesday in the classification rounds. Australia will now face the winner of Spain and China for 5th place on Friday at 1:10 p.m. ET.
Ash Southern and Zoe Arancini had three goals each to lead Australia. Goalkeepers Lea Yanitsas and Kelsey Wakefield combined for nine saves on 13 shot attempts.
Brazil goalkeeper Tess Oliveira had 15 saves. Brazil shot 25 times as a team, but had just a 16 percent goal rate.
Izabella Chiappini had two goals for the host team.
Brazil remains winless in the Rio games. They’ll face the loser of Spain and China Friday at 9 a.m. ET.