The U.S. women's water polo team is ranked No. 1 in the world, but some tough competition lies ahead at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
On a high note, the American women are the only team to win a medal in water polo each Summer Games since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2000. The downside, however, comes from Team USA's having yet to bring home the gold.
That said, with a new coach in Adam Krikorian since the 2008 Beijing Games, the U.S. are expected to take first prize. Here, let's break down the top threats they'll face in the pool.
Women's water polo world rankings courtesy of FINA.
View of FINA women's water polo results.
Hungary by comparison is not nearly as elite as the following countries, but they bring since the 2008 Beijing Games.
There, Hungary took fourth place in the Olympics and has since taken sixth in the 2010 FINA World Cup. An offensive-oriented team, the Hungarians can be quite the foe if they become more consistent.
Dating back as far as the 2006 World Cup (fifth place finish), Hungary has proven time and time again to hand with the elite.
Defensive though, expect them to get exposed early and often as has been the case before. The U.S. is the more complete team, but a down game offensively and Hungary has the potential to shake up the competition.
Don't be fooled by the long faces because Italy has plenty of experience and potential to make a run for gold.
After winning the 2004 Summer Games in Athens though, Italy hasn't seen much success. After a runner-up performance in the 2006 World FINA Cup, the Italians haven't finished better than fourth in international competition.
A gold medal at the 2012 European Championships does provide much confidence heading into London however. Presenting an explosive offense, Italy has the prowess to outscore anyone. Therefore, playing defense beyond their potential is needed from the U.S. to avoid an upset.
Although China have yet to win a medal at the Summer Games for women's water polo, the 2012 London Olympics have potential.
Over the past two years, the Chinese women have won bronze in the 2010 FINA World Cup and silver at the 2011 World Championships. As of June 2012, China are ranked No. 4 in the world by FINA.
Possessing one of the more explosive offenses, the U.S. must play well in man-to-man defense. A zone may save energy, but any team that knows how to score and score effectively will expose the zone and rack up points.
Russia are currently ranked No. 5, but thanks to much more consistency, they are a stronger threat to the U.S. than China.
Along with taking bronze at the 2000 Games, Russia took bronze at the 2006 World Cup and third place in four of the last five world championship tournaments. So despite not winning anything but bronze for the last 12 years, the Russians, with impressive persistence, have remained among the elite.
They may not have as potent of an offense as China, but Russia have that kind of explosive ability and present a solid defense. For the U.S. to oust the Russians, pushing the pace while being efficient is needed against a near-complete team.
Australia rank No. 2 in the world behind the U.S. and are the only other country with multiple Olympic medals.
They took gold in 2000 and bronze in 2008 but have been upset twice in the past two world championship competitions. Australia's most recent placement came at the 2010 FINA World Cup, where they lost to the U.S. and finished second.
The Australians have arguably the most explosive offense around. However, the defense has cost them in recent tournaments. In turn, if the U.S. face off against Australia, expect many long and drawn-out possessions to slow down the match.
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