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Spain's 'Guerreras' won't change come semifinal of women's Olympic water polo

08/06/2012 05:00 EDT | Updated 10/06/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - Spain's "Guerreras" have made it this far in their first women's Olympics water polo appearance, so don't expect them to change come the semifinal.

Spain certainly has a successful history in men's water polo, with a 1996 Olympic gold and two world titles. But the women's game never really found its stride until the London Games, where the Spanish are riding momentum and confidence to become the darling "warriors" back home.

And surprise contenders here.

Spain plays Hungary on Wednesday with the winner facing either the gold medal favourites United States or Australia in the final.

"I was surprised by the team — not since the first game of the tournament, but from our first game in 2010," coach Miki Oca said Monday. "This team is hungry, and when a team starts to mature it's normal for things to come together."

Oca was a member of Spain's team that won a gold in Atlanta in 1996. That medal came after Spain won silver at the 1992 Barcelona Games. He sees clear comparisons between his former and current teams.

"There are many similarities in their spirit of belief, their dedication to the idea that when the objective is clear and you know the route to take to achieve it. You go for it and they are," Oca said.

Spain qualified for London after winning a tournament in Trieste, Italy, in April with a victory over the host nation, and it has hardly looked back judging by its consistent form.

"That cup was the change that helped us gain the self-belief we needed," Jennifer Pareja said. "That was the leap forward that gave us the confidence to believe in ourselves."

The mood of Monday's news conference mirrored that self-belief. It was light-humoured, jovial and confident, with that last quality especially guiding them in Sunday's 9-7 quarterfinal win over Britain when Oca watched from the stands while serving a match ban.

"They are tough, disciplined, smart, I have a lot of respect for them," said U.S. coach Adam Krikorian, whose team lost to the Spanish in their last meeting. "They are the furthest thing from a dark horse in my opinion."

While the men have provided inspiration to the women, they will have to put their counterparts' performance on Monday out of their mind against Hungary after watching the Spain men lose to Italy 9-7.

"We have to focus on what we know and go out and play like we know," Oca said. "That will keep us focused."

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