World Cup champions Australia narrowly secured its berth in the women's water polo semifinals as it struggled to win over a young but ambitious Chinese team 12-11 here Sunday.
Australia was nearly fouled out of the game after a power start that saw Australia up 3-0 in just over two minutes. With Australia incurring double fouls, China struck back for 4-4 by the first break and 6-6 at half-time.
China went 7-6 shortly after the second break but Australia quickly returned and beat China 10-8 in the third quarter. China leveled the game 10-10 four minutes into the fourth quarter but lost 10-12 again less than three minutes to the end.
As the game seemed to be sealed at 10-12, Chinese player Qiao Leiying scored her third and most important goal of the tournament with a spectacular lob just 28 seconds before the end. The game then ended at 11-12.
"It was a great game but we didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had. Our defense was not fast enough and we have little experience compared with many other teams." China's goalkeeper Yang Jun said.
Despite the failure, the Chinese women's water polo team, set up for only four years, has made history by forcing into the top six at the Olympic Games.
"Nine months ago, I thought it would be impossible to finish in the top six in this competition. After some time with the players though, we both realize that we were building a strong team," head coach, Spanish Juan Jane, said.
"You have to remember that the players on my team are only 21 years old. They need more training, more games and more experience in the water," he said.
China's performance also surprised its rivals.
"Eight months ago, China were just an average team. They have improved out of sight and that showed in today's game. It also showed in their games against the U.S. and Italy. All games could have gone either way," Australian head coach Greg McFadden said.
Also on Sunday, the Netherlands beat Italy 13-11, heading into the semifinals.
On Tuesday, China will fight Italy for a fifth place.