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Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Estiarte still going for goals
Manuel Estiarte
Manuel Estiarte will be competing in his sixth Olympics
With five Olympics and more than 22 years of international experience behind him, Manuel Estiarte enters his final Games as one of water polo's true greats.

The sport's most prolific Olympian, Estiarte top scorer in his first four Olympics, before swapping goals for gold in Atlanta in 1998.

The 38-year-old was expected to retire after that but he has kept going.

It was a decision that was not best received and his form in the aftermath of the Olympics appeared to prove his critics correct.

But last September he provided the perfect riposte. In the World Cup in Sydney he opened Spain's campaign with four goals in the win over the defending champions USA.

He finished the tournament with Spain third and himself back on top of the goalscoring charts with 11.

Manuel Estiarte
Estiarte scores against the US in the World Cup

It gives one last chance to an ageing Spanish team that is more-or-less the same outfit that triumphed in Atlanta.

They are not ranked among the favourites to defend their title but after an Estiante-inspired decade which has seen seven major medals won, they can not be overlooked for a place on the large podium.

The Spanish coach Juan Jane has been criticised for keeping almost the same side from Atlanta.

But a gold in the 1998 World Championships followed by Estiarte's form at the World Cup has convinced Jane that he has got it right.

"I invite all the people that criticise Estiarte to watch a game like the one against the US and see why I put him on the team. He still has a healthy ambition to create goals and to win the game," said Jane.

Main challenge

"If you win an Olympic Games you go to the world championships, and if you win there you go to the Games; there is not a coach who will kick you off the team," mused Estiarte.

The main challenge to Spain will come from Yugoslavia, Hungary, Croatia and the US.

"Between first or seventh there is just a fraction so we must go to Sydney with humility. The team are devoted and whatever happens we will leave with our head held high," said Estiarte.

Whether he can add one more medal or not, Estiarte's place in the history of the sport is assured.

Manuel Estiarte
Estiarte has been playing for Spain for 22 years

"I have given a lot to water polo and this sport has given me a lot; I cannot say that it passed badly, but that I have been privileged and it is the moment for leaving these privileges," said Estiarte.

He was 15 when he made his international debut and within three years he was the top scorer at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

He earned the same honour in Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona, as Spain finished fourth, fourth, sixth and second respectively.

Little comfort

Finishing as top scorer on home soil can have been little comfort following a dramatic final against Italy. Estiarte converted a penalty 42 seconds from full time to put Spain ahead, but nine seconds later Italy equalised and went on to win in extra time.

But four years later it all came good.

With ten seconds to play and Spain 7-5 up against Croatia, Estiarte took possession.

"I've dreamt of this moment all my life," he said afterwards.

"The last ten seconds of the Olympic final, I have the ball and Spain wins the gold medal. I waited five Olympics, but it finally happened."

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