The women’s water polo team from 2019 FINA World Championships host nation South Korea suffered the worst loss in the history of the event Sunday night, falling to powerhouse Hungary 64-0.
As the host nation, South Korea received an automatic bid to enter the 16-team competition. The team is comprised of all swimmers, and was put together only a month before the competition began. Every team member except the captain Oh Hee-ji is in her teens. Hungary, conversely, is a two-time world champion and finished fourth at the last three Olympics.
“I was impressed with how much heart my team had,” said South Korean head coach Keun Ji. “It was their first game and after the game they were very happy. The team learned a lot from Hungary about water polo. All my players are swimmers so now they need to learn how to play a team sport.”
The Hungarian women took 71 shots in the match’s 32 minutes – good for a 90% shooting percentage – scoring for the first time just 12 seconds into the game. Rebecca Parkes led the way with 11 goals in 12 tries. South Korea took just three shots.
Prior to Sunday, the most lopsided match in Worlds history occurred when Croatia’s men defeated New Zealand 38-1 in 1994. Another match Sunday came close to the record, as well: the Netherlands women’s team defeated South Africa 33-0.
“After the game, we told each other we’ll try to do better next time,” Yeseo Song, one of three South Korean players to take a shot on goal, said. “We’re still a fledgling team. It was an honor to play a team that we’d only watched on YouTube. They were bigger and stronger than we thought.”
Much like in soccer’s World Cup, goal differential is the fifth tie-breaker in the later rounds of Worlds. While it may appear unnecessary for Hungary to run up the score as they did Sunday, just as when U.S. women’s national team caused a stir by defeating Thailand 13-0 in the opening round of their championship run this year, Hungary might need that goal differential later on.
Rules for classification in water polo: 1) points; 2) head-to-head points; 3) head-to-head goal difference; 4) head-to-head number of goals scored; 5) goal difference.
“We had no idea there was a record and we did not go for it,” Hungarian head coach Attila Biro said. “We had to show the team respect and play our normal game.”
While in swimming, there can be virtually limitless universality entries from underqualified countries without drastically impacting the elite participants, in the team format of water polo, a limited number of available entries can lead to a team like this drastically throwing off the balance of a competition.