The United States clinched a spot in the quarterfinals Tuesday night, splashing past Romania, 10-5.
America (3-1) got three goals from its oldest player _ 36-year-old Mike Evans _ and never was seriously threatened. The United States jumped out in front 9-2 after three quarters and got to rest many of its best players in the fourth.
"We knew that if you get up on the Romanians, they start getting angry at each other," said Chris Humbert, generally regarded as America's best player. "We never wanted to let them in the game."
America's next challenge: a 10 p.m. round-robin game today versus 3-1 Croatia, another team that already has clinched a quarterfinal spot.
"It's going to be a big day," U.S. coach Rich Corso said.
The U.S. has won only one gold medal in Olympic water polo history. That came in 1904 _ when the only teams to enter were several American club teams. The U.S. won silver medals in 1984 and 1988 and finished fourth in 1992.
Italy (4-0) is a strong gold-medal possibility here. The Italians already handed the Americans their only loss. Hungary (4-0) also is playing well.
"We're a young team for the most part," Evans said. "We're emotional. We're raw. And we're going to get better."
The U.S. conditioning paid off against the Romanians, who looked tired entering the second of the four seven-minute quarters that make up a water polo game.
In water polo, players cannot touch the bottom or sides of the pool. But the Romanians looked like they could use a rest.
The United States broke away in the second period with four goals, taking a 6-1 halftime lead.
The gold medal game in water polo will be Sunday. If the United States makes it that far, it will have to play eight games in nine days.
In other Pool B action, undefeated Italy, which beat Greece 10-8 to win the group, was joined in the quarterfinals by Croatia, which crushed Ukraine 16-8.
In Pool A, three-time champion Yugoslavia beat Germany 9-8 in a violent match that featured a fight and an ejection. Hungary edged Spain, the 1992 silver medalist at home in Barcelona, 8-7 to stay perfect after four games. Russia ended all uncertainty in Pool A by beating the Netherlands 10-5.