Courtesy: World Aquatics
Italy went into overdrive in the second half to dispose of front-runner Spain 13-9 on the second day of the World Aquatics Women’s Water Polo World Cup Division I competition in Rotterdam on Wednesday. It lifted to top of Group B as first-day loser United States of America bounced back to defeat China 12-5. In Group A, Netherlands had the better of Greece 14-10 after a 7-0 start and Hungary took top position with a 17-11 win over Australia.
By taking the scalp of Spain and gaining a second victory in Rotterdam, Italy became the first team to qualify for the World Cup finals in Long Beach in June. The match was built on a strong start, a 4-2 second period and a 4-1 final quarter.
Spain was the form team and played some excellent water polo, but only in fits. The three-goal spurt in the first quarter to take the 3-2 lead and a three-goal segment straddling halftime when it came from 5-4 down to lead 7-6 by 5:49 were the best parts.
Sadly for Spain, the goals dried up and Italy went on a 7-2 romp. From that 7-6 Spanish advantage the scores were tied at seven and eight before Italy closed the third quarter 9-8 up. It became 11-8 and 12-9 by 3:39, the closing goal coming six seconds from time for a four-goal margin.
Head coach Miki Oca lamented the poor defence while Italy supremo Carlo Silipo was very happy now that the finals berth is settled.
Claudia Marletta sent in four goals from the top, three on extra-man attack. The Ruiz sisters from Spain — Elena and Ariadne — grabbed five goals with left-hander Ariadne — the older of the two — netting three.
There were three times when a team scored three unanswered goals, all turning the match. Spain did it in the first quarter and over halftime and Italy, when it counted, over the final break. Italy’s fulcrum came off the 8-8 score for 11-8 with five minutes remaining.
Stats don’t lie:
Italy worked hard to get Spanish players ejected and did so 15 times, but only managing to convert four. Spain was only allowed to score one from six. Spain missed one of its two penalty attempts and Italy converted its one.
No team is exempt from losing. Look at USA the day before when Spain took the penalty-shootout victory. Today Italy toppled Spain. Competition is so tight, especially among the top echelon. Spain will bounce back and should beat China on day three, but needs to work hard if it wants to go to Long Beach.
United States of America 12 China 5
USA emerged the winner through skills and experience and maintaining the margin throughout. For China, who came so close to levelling with Italy on day one, the match started badly when an illegal player was in the water polo and she was excluded for the match and a penalty awarded, gifting USA its first goal. China was a player down on the bench and it was playing the multi-champion USA team with many Chinese with very little experience, including 15-year-old Yixin Shao (who turns 16 on April 29) making her international debut.
According to China’s coach, Haris Pavlidis from Greece, his team played better than the day before, especially since USA was the opponent. The score was level at one until late in the quarter before USA captain Maggie Steffens lobbed from two metres and Julia Bonaguidi converted extra-man attack for the 3-1 lead at the break. The second quarter was even and the third went the way of USA by a hefty 4-1.
China pulled one back through Siya Yan — her third and the second successive Chinese lob over USA goalkeeper Ash Johnson. A rapid three goals from USA, spearheaded by youngster Emily Ausmus at deep right, had the match sewn up with more than four minutes remaining.
Maddie Musselman was the player of the match with her three USA goals while Bonaguidi also snared three. Yan was the best of the Chinese who are turning into an impressive team.
The three-goal heist straddling the first break and then wrapping it up in the third.
Stats don’t lie:
It was a low-fouling match, however, USA converted three from seven and China only one from six. USA scored both penalty attempts.
USA is experimenting with youngsters combined with veterans and head coach Adam Krikorian said that his team had little time to prepare for the tournament. It showed at times, with Krikorian labelling it “sloppy”. However, USA is the champion of almost everything and China was a little intimidated. Both teams have a lot to do in this event as yet, even though USA is an automatic qualifier for the finals as the host nation.
Netherlands 14 Greece 10
Netherlands qualified for the final series with a second victory, crushing Greece 7-0 in the first 14 minutes and then cruising to the finish line. In fact, from 7-0 down, Greece won the next segment 10-7; alas, the match was over. Greece could only play for pride. Netherlands was dominant, to say the least, and the packed house appreciated the effort. The Dutch were 3-0 up the first break, even though it had a penalty shot rejected. Another four goals came before Eirini Ninou registered Greece’s first goal from eight metres outside.
Netherlands shot out to 9-1 before seven goals were traded, giving Netherlands a 12-5 advantage at the final break. The 5-2 closing quarter to Greece showed what it is capable of with Vasiliki Plevritou scoring from the penalty line and deep left. The final Greek goal came three seconds from time when Maria Myriokefalitaki drew the exclusion and shot past an advancing goalkeeper for the 14-10 margin.
Simone van de Kraats lit the fire that saw Netherlands shoot away like a fire engine from the station. She scored three of the first four goals and added a fourth at 9-1 from the penalty line — her second penalty goal. Her close-in goal to start the second quarter needed a VAR decision to see whether she had crossed the two-metre line before receiving the ball. Lieke Rogge netted three, but had her penalty attempt blocked late in the first quarter.
That 7-0 blast in the first half.
Stats don’t lie:
Netherlands did the better with the stats, converting six from 11 chances on extra to Greece’s two from eight. On penalties, Netherlands converted three from four and Greece two from two.
It was not Greece’s day. It was definitely Netherlands’ day and reminiscent of that beautiful moment in Beijing 15 years ago when the Dutch upset USA for the Olympic gold medal. It was that sort of dominance. However, it’s a long season ahead with many chances of glory.
Hungary 17 Australia 11
Hungary also made it through to the finals with its second victory here. A 6-2 opening quarter was the impetus for the victory with head coach Attila Biro asking his team to work hard on defence and focus on attack. It worked. Aussie Stingers head coach Paul Oberman rued the first quarter, stating that the team made the chances but could not “get the ball into the back of the net”. There were two three-goal bursts in the first quarter by Hungary, which set the scene.
Australia won the second period 5-2 but a Rita Keszthelyi-inspired three-goal run late in the third period lifted the margin to 13-7 at the final break. Earlier in the period, Dorottya Szilagyi scored identical extra-man goals from the deep left for her third and fourth goals. A tied fourth quarter showed that Australia can compete against the best, as long as its gets regular competition.
Szilagyi was named player of the match with her four goals, all coming from the deep-left position, something she does so well. Greta Gurisatti and Kata Hajdu both scored three each. Four players netted twice for Australia —Bridget Leeson-Smith, Abby Andrews, captain Zoe Arancini and Elle Armit.
The first period with those two three-goal surges.
Stats don’t lie:
Hungary’s remarkable extra-man conversion rate of seven from nine outclassed Australia’s five from 12. Hungary snared two penalty goals as well. These stats proved the difference of the two teams.
The Magyars continue their excellent run of the previous two years while the Aussie Stingers need more top-line action to improve.
Group A: Hungary 6, Netherlands 6, Greece 0, Australia 0.
Group B: Italy 6, USA 4, Spain 2, China 0.