LONDON (AP) -- Italy has been a surprise at the London Games, even if its players are the reigning water polo world champions.
But it was Italy's young team, considered a contender but no favorite, that dispatched Hungary in the quarterfinals before upsetting Serbia 9-7 on Friday to reach the gold medal match against unbeaten Croatia.
"We are a young team. We are very crazy and we work a lot and we have a fantastic coach and now we play for the final," Italy's Maurizio Felugo said.
The Italian victory over Serbia was a repeat of its 2011 world championship final win in Shanghai, China. Italy has 11 players back from that squad, but only two of them - Felugo and goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti - had any Olympic experience when the team arrived in London.
It has hardly seemed to matter.
"Everybody, we are the same level as in Shanghai," Italy coach Alessandro Campagna said. "I told you that each match we would play better and better, and this is what has happened."
Italy's sole loss at the tournament so far came against Croatia, an 11-6 defeat in the preliminary stage, a game the reigning world champions say they've put behind them.
It's not that Italy isn't unstoppable. They've just proven adept at stopping others.
With Tempesti nearly flawless in goal and a well-organized and disciplined defense in front of him, Italy limited the two highest-scoring teams in the tournament, Hungary and Serbia, to nine and seven goals apiece.
Tempesti and company will have to be just as sharp in Sunday's final against Croatia if Italy wants to win its fourth Olympic water polo title, and first since 1992.
"We are in the final, we need to think just about us," Dobud said. "If we play like this, like the whole tournament, I hope that we will win."
If it does, Croatia will claim its first Olympic water polo title, and its first medal in the event since silver at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Since a disappointing ninth-place finish at the 2012 European championship, Croatia has been on a roll, winning the FINA World League Finals last month and plowing through the competition so far in London undefeated.
Ryan Lucas can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/relucasz