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U.S. women’s water polo team wins fifth world title

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — They’ve done it again.

The U.S. women claimed a record-extending fifth world championship in water polo with a 13-6 victory over Spain on Friday.

Kiley Neushul scored four goals to help the two-time Olympic champions win back-to-back titles at the worlds. The pre-tournament favorites had beaten Russia 14-9 in the semifinal. The Russians finished with the bronze medal.

Spain fought to stay even at 3-3 before quick-fire goals from Neushul and Maddie Musselman gave the U.S. breathing room at halftime.

Captain Maggie Steffens added a couple of goals in what turned out to be a comfortable win on the back of strong defense.

U.S. goalkeeper Gabrielle Stone saved seven of 12 shots. Amanda Longan yielded Spain’s other goal.

Musselman had a hat trick, giving her 16 goals for the tournament. Anna Espar Llaquet reached a hat trick for Spain with the game’s final score.

The U.S. had been the first women’s water polo nation to win four worlds, after victories in 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2015.

Both sides were backed by an enthusiastic crowd on Budapest’s Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. Most of the crowd seemed to be from Hungary, whose men’s team plays in the final against Croatia on Saturday night.

The American women returned seven of their 13 gold medalists from Rio. The most notable absentee was No. 1 goalie Ashleigh Johnson, who stepped aside from the national team this year but did wrap up her NCAA career at Princeton.

The U.S. men were eliminated in group play in 13th place overall, their worst-ever finish.

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Correction: An earlier headline erroneously stated the U.S. won a fifth straight world title.

Tony Azevedo retires after 5 Olympics in water polo

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Tony Azevedo is ending one of the greatest water polo careers in U.S. history, retiring after a record five Olympics at age 35.

Azevedo, the first American to play in five Olympic water polo tournaments, said it was a tough decision but a necessary one to spend time with his family — wife Sara and two kids, according to the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.

“The traveling and everything for them would be too much,” said Azevedo, who has a 3-year-old boy and a girl born after the Rio Olympics. “It’s time.”

Later, Azevedo said he will be part of a summer series of matches between the U.S. and a European powerhouse in California before officially ending his national-team career.

Azevedo was a teenage prodigy dubbed the “Kobe Bryant of water polo.” A ball boy at the 1996 Olympics, Azevedo made a list of about 13 goals as a “slow, fat, chubby kid” who wanted to start on his high school team.

He reached all of those goals except for one — a gold medal. Azevedo made his Olympic debut out of high school in 2000 and then helped lead the U.S. to silver at Beijing 2008, his lone Olympic or world championships medal in 13 combined appearances. He led the U.S. in goals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“If anyone asks, am I going to miss the swimming? No. Am I going to miss the games? No. Are you going to miss the Olympics? No,” Azevedo said. “I’m going to miss those days of grinding with your teammates.”

Azevedo was one of the top U.S. stories of the Rio Olympics, since he was born in the Brazilian city and lived there for 23 days before moving to Southern California. Azevedo, whose father was a Brazilian national team member, played for a Sao Paulo club team for much of the past Olympic cycle.

The U.S. went 2-3 in Rio, failing to advance out of group play.

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WATCH: Top water polo moments of the Rio Olympics

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The U.S. women and Serbian men’s water polo teams came to the Rio Games as the undisputed favorites to take home the gold, and in the end both teams proved why.

The American women outscored their opponents by 41 goals in the six games they ran through, trailing for a total of 44 seconds in the entire games.

The win was especially special for U.S. head coach Adam Krikorian, who lost his brother just two days before the Opening Ceremonies. Krikorian flew to California and returned the day before the women began play. In the end, his team hung all of their gold medals around Krikorian’s neck as a sign appreciation for their strong leader.

Serbia wasn’t quite as dominant throughout, starting the Games 0-1-2 and on the verge of missing the quarterfinals. But the Serbians proved it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. They won their last five games by an average of seven goals on their way to the first gold medal in the nation’s history.

Serbia’s lone loss came to Brazil, who looked to be a Cinderella story in the making, starting the game on their home soil 3-0, delighting fans throughout the city. Brazil struggled the rest of the way, losing their final five games, but still proved that water polo could have a place, and definitely a fan base, in the country afterall.

Some other important moments from the Rio water polo pool can be seen here.