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U.S. women’s water polo team reclaims world title

The U.S. women’s water polo team reclaimed the world championship, seven months after its streak of four consecutive titles was snapped.

The Americans beat Hungary 8-7 in Friday’s final in Doha, capping an undefeated tournament.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Rachel Fattal scored a hat trick for the U.S., which broke open a 5-5 game at the start of the fourth quarter with three goals in a 3-minute, 23-second span and held on.

Goalie Ashleigh Johnson, also a two-time Olympic gold medalist, made 12 saves.

Maggie Steffens, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time Olympic MVP, led the U.S. in goals for the tournament (15) and minutes played (23:25 per game), followed by Fattal in both categories.

Four of the U.S.’ six wins were by one- or two-goal margins, a testament to how close the world’s top teams are.

Last July, Italy defeated the U.S. in the world championship quarterfinals. It ended the Americans’ 26-game win streak in world championship play dating to a 2015 loss to Italy in group play.

The U.S. also won the last three Olympic titles. After last July’s world championship, Adam Krikorian, the coach for the entire dynasty, said the team wasn’t as good as past U.S. teams.

“They hate it when I tell them that, but it’s the truth,” Krikorian said last summer. “We’re not as good as we once were. We don’t have as much offensive firepower, and we don’t have as much of a balanced attack as before.”

Italy went on to finish third at last July’s worlds, then was eliminated in the quarterfinals this week. The Netherlands, last year’s champion, also lost in the quarterfinals in Doha (plus lost to the U.S. in group play).

The U.S. will now go into Paris Olympics as the reigning world champion, bidding to become the first nation to win four consecutive Olympic water polo titles for men or women.

In the men’s tournament, Italy plays Croatia in Saturday’s final. The U.S. lost to Italy in a playoff round with a quarterfinal berth at stake. The U.S. men last reached the semifinals in 2009.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.