By Joshua Schneyer
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The U.S. women's water polo team beat Hungary on Wednesday to reach the finals at the Rio Games where they will look to become the first women's squad to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the sport.
The Americans faced their first deficit in Rio when Hungary went ahead 2-1 in the first quarter but the world champions regrouped and used tight defense and superior firepower to secure a 14-10 victory.
In Friday's gold-medal match, the United States will face Italy, the gold medal winners in 2004, which beat Russia 12-9 in the other semi-final.
Maggie Steffens led the way for the United States with four goals and was also called upon to play some defense, helping to limit the attacking power of Hungary's Barbara Bujka, one of the best in the world, who scored twice in the match.
Italy got by Russia by mounting a stalwart defense and scoring at every opportunity.
Italy coach Fabio Conti extolled the performance of Arianna Garibotti, who scored five goals and helped Italy come back from an early deficit against Russia.
"She doesn't feel fear," Conti said. "Sometimes when the moment is dangerous she can do everything."
Conti said Italy will be studying game video and hopes to arrive on Friday with a solid gameplan that gives them a chance to upset the tournament favorite.
"Of course USA is the best team to beat because they won the last Olympic Games and many tournaments," he added.
Italy have failed to make an Olympic podium since winning gold in 2004. But like the United States, who have clinched a podium spot at every Olympics since women's water polo made its debut in 2000, they are undefeated in Rio and have looked strong throughout the tournament.
"Italy's great, and have a lot of experience," Steffens told reporters. "We say bring it on."
Hungary will play Russia for bronze on Friday.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)