A new era has started for women’s water polo with Paris 2024 the ultimate prize. On the opening day of the European qualifications for the FINA Women’s World League, Russia sent off Italy 11-5 in Moscow while Greece survived a penalty shootout to beat Olympic bronze medallist Hungary 15-14 in Patras after Hungary clinched the 11-11 draw in the last second of regular play.
New-look Russia pours in the goals against under-done Italy
RUSSIA v ITALY, Group B
MOSCOW (Russia)— Russia may have had only four players who turned out at the Tokyo Olympic Games last year, but the fundamentals were there, the combinations good and the tactics finely honed to defeat Italy 11-5.
Russia was never headed and won the first three periods 3-2, 2-0 and 3-0 before drawing the last 3-3. Russia struck when it needed and Italy’s attack had no bite and penalty goals were hard to come by (one from four). The fact that Italy had not played internationally since early last year and the influx of new players worked against it.
Olga Lupinogina revelled in the limelight and will remember her first match on this stage, scoring three goals — two off crisp passes on the counter-attack. Veteran Mariia Bersneva netted three, although she will rue her missed penalty attempts. Sofia Giustini, one of the more experienced Italians, scored her team’s second and fifth goals on extra-man attack.
The middle-half shut-out by Russia meant Italy went 18 match minutes without a score as Russia progressed from 3-2 to 8-2 by the final break. And, to boot, Russia missed two penalty chances in that time to Italy’s one.
Stats don’t lie
The all-important extra-man count heavily favoured Russia, converting five from nine compared to Italy’s two from eight. The goalkeeper stats gave 10 saves to Russia and just six to Italy, such was Russia’s penetration and better defence.
Missing the Tokyo Olympics was almost an embarrassment for the 2004 Olympic champion Italians. It hampered the development and now a new swathe of players must take up the banner and push hard to regain a reputation, which has recently been tarnished. Russia maintained its surge from Tokyo, where it finished fourth, and proved to have a raft of new athletes in the programme was no obstacle to success. Sergey Markoch has done his homework and produced an excellent team in such a short time.
What they said
Carlo Silipo (ITA) — Head Coach (above)
“For us, it’s our first official game after the last match we played in March 2021 during the Olympic qualification. We are very excited to do that and also we have some problems — like every team — six athletes did not come with us; four have covid and another two are injured, but we were ready to play the better water polo.”
Sergey Markoch (RUS) — Head Coach
“The Russian national team was represented by an updated line-up for today’s match. Only four players participated in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. We have a lot of young players, but I am sure that today we showed modern water polo.”
Greece pleases the home crowd with shootout victory after giving Hungary a lifeline
GREECE v HUNGARY, Group A
Patras (Greece).— Greece trailed the match for three-quarters, snared the lead three times in the final quarter, only to allow Hungary a last-gasp equaliser to force the shootout.
This was a thrilling encounter where the Olympic bronze medallist looked in control, going 6-4, 7-5 and 8-7 ahead before Greece equalised through centre forward Eleni Xenaki on extra-man attack a minute from the final break. The last-second goal from Panni Zita Szegedi came off a cross-pass. In the shootout, Hungary missed the first and fourth attempts while Greece only missed the second.
Szegedi, definitely. Xenaki scored two of her three goals on extra-man attack and team-mate Eleftheria Plevritou top-scored with five goals, two on extra, one from the penalty line and a spectacular tip on from a short drive and turn into two metres. Her fifth opened Greece’s shootout success.
Greece’s double either side of the final break, going from a goal down to a goal ahead. It maintained the momentum and took the 11-10 advantage at 3:27. Two timeouts failed to earn either team a goal, although Szegedi’s move to four metres and a quick cross-pass saw her regain hope for Hungary.
Stats don’t lie
There’s only one stat that told the story and that was Hungary’s inability to breach the Greece defence when a man up. Just seven goals came from 17 attempts while Greece had the better percentage with six from 12.
Greece, like Italy, failed to make the Olympic Games. However, the Greek determination at home was enough to get across the line and would please new coach Alexia Kammenou. Despite the extra-man count against Hungary, head coach Attila Biro would be happy with the way his team played with spirit and determination, considering it is a vastly different team from Tokyo.
What they said
Alexia Kammenou (GRE) — Head Coach
“We are a new team, with several young players and we are trying to make a new start. It is important that in our first game we got the victory. We thank the city of Patras for the amazing hospitality.”
Attila Biro (HUN) — Head Coach
“Congratulations to the Greek team; they played very well and got the victory. We thank Patras and the organisers for the excellent hospitality. We made some mistakes in the end, the game went to penalties and Greece won there.”