Australian men's water polo coach John Fox says his team is well-equipped to cope with the likely retirement of three long-serving champions after posting its best result at an Olympics in 20 years.
The Sharks beat United States 10-9 in their seventh-versus-eighth play-off on Sunday, which represented an improvement on their performance in Beijing, when they finished eighth, and their highest placing since running fifth at Barcelona in 1992.
The victory was a fitting send-off for skipper Sam McGregor and veterans Thomas Whalan and Gavin Woods, who between them have played in 232, 316 and 347 international games and been the heart and soul of the team for a decade. All three are set to hang up their Speedos.
Fox said Australia had to deal with an even bigger exodus after Beijing.
"I think we're in a better position to after Beijing, where I think we lost seven,'' Fox said.
"We lost a lot of players after Beijing. There was a real big rebuilding that had to occur in our team through '09, '10, and I think the benefits of that is going to come out in the next one year, two years.
"We've got succession plans in place, whereas in Beijing I don't know if we did have the groundswell of players coming through.''
Fox said it was "deflating'' for Australia to have to continue playing classification games after they were eliminated from the race for medals, but these games served a purpose.
By beating the US, Australia automatically qualified for next year's world championships in Barcelona.
"It's such a letdown, but on game day it picks up again . . . you're still playing,'' he said.
"If anyone thinks these guys aren't going hard every game they play, well you've got rocks in your head, because it is about pride.''
Asked to reflect on Australia's eight games, which produced three wins, Fox said: "We've made a lot of improvement, but we've still got a little way to go.
"To get that experience playing under pressure situations, last quarters, this is a fantastic foundation.
"I think we've got the building blocks now to really make some big strides in the next couple of years.''