RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) " It got physical, very physical, and that's just fine with the U.S. women's water polo team.
Maggie Steffens scored four times, and the United States clawed its way back to the Olympic final with a rugged 14-10 victory over Hungary on Wednesday.
Winners of 21 in a row, including its five games in Rio de Janeiro by a combined score of 61-27, the U.S. has met every challenge as the favorite to become the first country to win consecutive gold medals since the tournament was added to the Olympics in 2000.
Poked and prodded by Hungary, the U.S. pushed back with its relentless attack.
"We kind of say bring it on," Steffens said. "We want to beat teams at their best game. Hungary's a very physical team, that's what makes them great."
Next up is Italy, which advanced to Friday's final with a 12-9 victory over Russia. Italy also is a perfect 5-0 in Rio, winning by a combined score of 51-31.
"It's going to be a heck of a battle," U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said. "We're going to have our hands full, no doubt."
With the U.S. paying close attention to Barbara Bujka in the middle, captain Rita Keszthelyi scored four times as Hungary became the first country to reach double digits against the U.S. since Spain got 10 goals in a loss to the Americans on June 9.
But Hungary was unable to slow down the athletic U.S. in the second half.
"The U.S. is the strongest and they have the most and biggest, strongest players in all the Olympic Games," Hungary coach Attila Biro said.
After Bujka scored to get Hungary within one at the beginning of the second quarter, the United States responded with four of the next five goals. Maddie Musselman scored on two power plays and Kaleigh Gilchrist made it 8-4 with 3:06 left in the first half.
Hungary made another charge in the third quarter, but Steffens had two goals and Kiley Neushul also scored in an impressive burst that helped put the game away.
"We knew it would be a physical, tough, strong game," U.S. center Kami Craig said. "Just happy to go out there and kind of grind through some of that physicality and try to play as clean of water polo as we could."
Italy won the gold medal in 2004, but slipped to sixth in Beijing and finished seventh in London four years ago. But it's headed back to the final after Arianna Garibotti scored five goals and Giulia Gorlero made nine saves in the country's second victory over Russia in Rio.
"The final is a dream," Italy coach Fabio Conti said. "Every player, every athlete, every coach that arrive in Olympic Games want to arrive to this dream. Now we don't want to stop (this) dream."
Roberta Bianconi and Chiari Tabani added two goals apiece for Italy, which, like the U.S., is trying to become the first two-time winner of the Olympic tournament.
"It's going to be a physical battle," Bianconi said through a translator, "so we need to be very, very focused and do exactly what we have worked on our whole season."
Evgeniya Ivanova and Ekaterina Lisunova each scored two goals for Russia, which was a surprise 12-10 winner over Spain in the quarterfinals.
Ivanova and Olga Gorbunova scored the first two goals of the game, but Italy gradually took over. Garibotti's long-range goal gave Italy a 5-4 lead with 1:37 left in the first half, and it never trailed again.
After Russia pulled within two with 3:17 left, Garibotti scored a power-play goal to make it 10-7. Bianconi added a penalty shot with 1:41 remaining.
Garibotti scored seven times in Italy's first four games.
"Sometimes when the moment is dangerous she can do anything," Conti said.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings