BEIJING A breakout performance by Dutch star Danielle de Bruijn ended the gold medal dreams of the U.S. women's water polo team Thursday as the Americans suffered a heartbreaking 9-8 loss.
De Bruijn scored seven of the Dutch team's nine goals and helped her team pull to a 4-0 lead within the match's first four minutes.
Although the U.S. team clawed back to an 8-8 tie in the last minute of play, the left-handed de Bruijn took advantage of a U.S. penalty, which gave the Dutch a one-player advantage, to score the game-winning goal.
U.S. team captain Brenda Villa attempted one last shot right in front of the Dutch goal, but goalkeeper Ilse van der Meijden blocked the attempt, handing the Americans a stinging defeat.
The loss marked the third consecutive time veteran U.S. players such as Villa have reached the Olympic medal round only to miss out on the gold. The U.S. team won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a bronze at the 2004 Athens games. The players will leave Beijing with silver medals.
Thursday's match was the last for several of the players, including de Bruijn, who said she planned to retire.
"It's great to play like this in your last game," de Bruijn said. "In the end, the team was playing for me, and that's why I could make the shots."
U.S. coach Guy Baker called de Bruijn's shooting "up there with the great performances" and said he had tried to neutralize the Dutch driver by puztting more players on her.
The U.S. team at first had trouble matching its defense to the Dutch onslaught but finally found its rhythm and tied the game 5-5 at halftime. U.S. goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong blocked several shots, and repeated Dutch penalties allowed the U.S. team to convert.
The Dutch team, however, broke out to a two-point advantage early in the third quarter, requiring the Americans to once again play catch-up. With two goals, Jessica Steffens was the leading scorer for the U.S. side.
"I thought we did OK, but they just outplayed us," Baker said. "We could never quite get over the hump. We were tied but we couldn't get the lead."
The U.S. team's disappointment was clear after the game when the players glumly stepped onto the medal stand, with some wiping away tears. The U.S. won consecutive world championships and was top-ranked, while the Dutch team reached the gold medal match after losing its first two games in the preliminary round.
The Australian team won the bronze, beating Hungary in a penalty shoot-out.
"I'm obviously not happy and I'm extremely disappointed but I also realize that I'm one of the very few people in the world with a silver medal," said the U.S. player Moriah van Norman. "I admire the 10 years of hard work some of these players have put into this."