By Joshua Schneyer
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The world champion U.S. women’s water polo team won a spot in the Olympic semi-finals by running roughshod over home-team Brazil on Monday, prevailing 13-3 and moving a step closer to defending their London Games title.
After three dominant performances in the group round, where the U.S. beat Spain, China and Hungary, the team faced its easiest game yet against Brazil.
Californian Makenzie Fischer, age 19, helped to lead the charge with 2 goals, and was one of eight separate U.S. players to score in the first half, where the U.S. team opened up a commanding 8-0 lead.
"Everyone is ready to step up and take a shot," Fischer said of the team.
The Brazilian women’s team had failed to win any of its three games during group play, placing last in their group.
The U.S. win sets up a semi-finals game against the winner of Hungary and Australia, which led 5-3 after the first half of their quarter-final.
"Australia is definitely a huge rival," Fischer said. "But all of the teams will bring their best game."
Australia won bronze in London, and won gold in Sydney in 2000.
The only other women's team to emerge from the Rio group phase undefeated is Italy, which won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games and faces China in the quarter-finals.
Team USA won a gold medal at the 2012 London Games and has clinched a spot on the podium at every Games since women’s water polo was added to the Olympics in 2000. The women's gold medal match is set for Friday.
The men's water polo tournament resumes on Tuesday, when world champion Serbia faces Spain in the quarter-finals, after a series of mostly disappointing performances in the group phase. Brazil's men's team, which won three out of five group stage matches and upset the Serbian team earlier, faces a strong Croatian side.
The U.S. men's team failed to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Olympic water polo teams have faced some unexpected challenges in Rio. Controversy erupted over the outdoor water polo pool conditions last week after some players complained about over-chlorination that stung their eyes.
But play has now moved to the indoor pool stadium that hosted Olympic swimming events, where there have been no complaints.
(Reporting By Joshua Schneyer; Editing by Andrew Hay)