Shootout Loss Propels Greece Into Women’s Water Polo World Cup Super Final

Courtesy: World Aquatics

Greece was beaten 19-18 by Australia in a penalty shootout, but it was enough to gain one point and get across the qualification line on the second day of the World Aquatics Women’s Water Polo World Cup Division I competition in Athens on Thursday. Australia came from three down to lead 14-12 in the fourth period, needing a four-goal margin for any chance of making the finals series. Greece drew level at 14 and 15 to force the shootout, which it lost 4-3. In the other Group 2 match, Spain defeated China 17-11. In Group 1, United States of America rose to the top with a 10-6 win over Italy as previously unbeaten Netherlands fell to Hungary 12-11.

Group 1

Netherlands 11, Hungary 12

Netherlands came to Athens unbeaten — the only team — and began the campaign well with a 16-10 margin over Italy. Today was a different matter. It was Hungary, who has twice beaten Olympic champion USA in the past two years, although it lost 10-8 in their encounter on Wednesday. Lessons learned in that match were applied today.

Hungary started 2-0 and had the 5-4 lead at quarter time. It was still one at halftime — 8-7 — and 10-9 at the final break. By now, the match was tied at three, five, six, eight and nine.

Netherlands’ Lieke Rogge made it 10-10 halfway through the final period and with just a little more than two minutes remaining, Dora Leimeter squeezed one in for Hungary from deep right. On the next attack, Brigitte Sleeking converted a penalty for 11-11. At the other end, speedster Vanya Valyi sat up to score from the left-hand-catch position for what proved to be the winner. Neither team could improve the score despite having a timeout each.

Match heroes:

Dorrotya Szilagyi collected the player-of-the-match award, scoring four of Hungary’s first six goals before she was reined in. Sleeking was the best scorer for Netherlands, also with four goals. Sarah Buis was excellent in goal for Netherlands, making nine saves while Hungary’s Alda Magyari stopped eight.

Turning point:

The opening two goals, which gave Hungary the advantage and then not allowing Netherlands to get its head in front, despite the seven ties.

Stats don’t lie:

Hungary shut the Dutch out on man down, saving four attempts while converting two from eight. Netherlands almost won the match on penalty goals with three from three and denying Hungary its only chance. Hungary had three more shots than Netherlands.

Bottom line:

These are two of the best teams on the planet, proving that at the top echelon of the code, any team can win on the day. Hungary controlled the day and proved its recent run of medals could be consolidated again this year. Netherlands had become a target and it was toppled from the pedestal today.

United States of America 10, Italy 6

USA eased into top spot on the ladder, thanks to its win over Italy and Netherlands’ loss. No match is easy for the Olympic, World and World Cup champion and Italy made sure to press the case by leading 4-3 at the start of the third period. Italy opened the scoring and trailed 2-1 at the quarter, levelled through a penalty goal at the top of the second, stopped a USA penalty attempt in the dying minute and traded goals by the halftime buzzer.

When Silvia Avegno sent in a slider from top left, USA was stunned into action and then proceeded to win the rest of the quarter 6-1 to head into the final eight minutes with a 9-5 advantage. It reached 4-4 and 5-5 before USA captain and triple Olympic champion Maggie Steffens was finally rewarded for her many shots with a pair — both from quick extra-man chances when directly in front of goal — and Jordan Raney’s two on extra, the second coming one second from the break.

Italy pulled one back to start the fourth period, however, only one more goal transpired with Tara Prentice scoring off the left-post position on extra-man attack at 3:14 for what was the final score of 10-6.

Match heroes:

Raney was named best in pool with five goals from six attempts, including USA’s first two and the triple in the third quarter. Three came on extra and two from the top, the first an excellent wide lob. Claudia Marletta nailed three from seven attempts for Italy.

Turning point:

The third period, USA turning 5-5 into 9-5 and onwards to victory.

Stats don’t lie:

USA converted six from 13 extra-man attempts to Italy’s two from six. Both teams shot 26 times and Italy fared better with the penalty attempts with two from three while USA missed its one chance.

Bottom line:

USA did what it does best and that is to win matches when it counts. The third-quarter effort was sublime and shows just what this team can do when needed. Italy is in the realm and certainly had an excellent two thirds before wilting.

Group 2

Spain 17 China 11

Spain came through a high-scoring match to defeat China with a wide margin. The 4-1 opening quarter proved to be a stepping stone to victory and turned around China’s normally lucrative starts in Rotterdam and Athens. It was three goals ahead of Greece on Wednesday and even led 1-0 today. With Elena Ruiz on fire, scoring twice in the first period and three times more in the match, Spain made sure of top position in the group ahead of the play-off with Greece on Friday.

The second quarter was squared at four and with three consecutive goals to start the third for 11-5, it seemed to be match over. The final-break scoreline was 12-7, progressing to 15-10 and 15-11. Ruiz and Paula Leiton completed the scoring for Spain, for what was an emphatic victory. China remains winless and out of finals contention, although its style of game and presence in the pool has made many teams sit up and take notice.

The rejuvenated Chinese team is well prepared for the World Aquatics Championships and its main aim for the year being to win the Asian Games in September-October and gain Olympic inclusion.

Match heroes:

Ruiz, Spain’s rising youngster with a veteran’s head, loves the left side of the pool and nothing better than to rise high to shoot. Those five goals were precious and a comfort for the many major matches to come. Bea Ortiz proved more than useful with her three goals and China’s Huan Wang was destructive deep right with three goals, the last a twisting bouncer.

Turning point:

Taking the three-goal lead after being one down. It set up the rest of the match for Spain.

Stats don’t lie:

While Spain could not convert its two extra-man chances, China made the most of its 10 opportunities to convert four. Spain scored one penalty goal, but had the better of shots on target with 33 to 24. The goalkeepers made five saves each.

Bottom line:

Spain was always going to win, knowing it had the experience over China. Spain kept its guard up as the Chinese newcomers are still unknown and taking every opportunity presented with excellent results. Spain will now relish a chance to play a European team on Friday and hopefully leave Greece with a clean slate.

Greece 18, Australia 19 in penalty shootout (FT: 15-15. Pens: 3-4)

This was the match of the day, the one where something was on the line. Australia knew the target. It had to win by four goals because of losing to Greece by three — 10-7 — the previous week in Rotterdam, if it wanted to qualify for the finals series. Even if it achieved the feat, it still needed to beat China the following day and see Spain beat Greece for the monumental task to happen.

The hurdle was made even harder with Greece starting 2-0 and Australia coming back to 3-3 and 4-4 by quarter time. In a huge second quarter, four goals to Eirini Ninou helped Greece to an 11-9 halftime advantage. The Aussie Stingers dragged it back  to 12-12 and then an electric 13-12 lead by the final break. When Bronte Halligan secured her second consecutive goal for 14-12 at 6:12, the target of four-plus was tantalisingly achievable.

However, a pair of extra-man goals to Spain, including Ninou’s sixth, had the match at 14-14 by 3:56. Still time, but much harder now. Amy Ridge converted extra at 3:25, but the goals dried up before Greece levelled at 1:09, crushing the Aussie hearts.

It needed a penalty shootout, which Australia won 4-3 with two missed Greek chances, for Greece to take the one point needed to qualify for Long Beach, USA in June. The Stingers were devastated, especially after being two goals up after coming from three behind an amazing four times.

Match heroes:

Ninou with her seven goals from 11 attempts, including one in the shootout, was the thorn in the side of Australia and ensured her team would make the North American trip. Halligan spearheaded Australia’s challenge with five goals, followed by Abby Andrews and Elle Armit with four each.

Turning point:

The three unanswered goals straddling the final break that lifted the Stingers from 12-11 behind to 14-12 ahead.

Stats don’t lie:

Both teams were deadly on extra-man attack with Australia converting seven from 10 and Greece seven from 12. Greece made the most of two penalty shots in regular time, as well. However, the biggest test was the shootout where one Greek shot hit the right upright and the other sheared away to the upper left.

Bottom line:

Australia is one of the leading teams in the world and tried to prove that today. However, with no World Cup finals to contest, the Stingers need to regroup for the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka this July. Greece might be deemed lucky to be in the finals, but that is not so, as the three-goal victory in Rotterdam attests. It’s where Greece made its luck.

Progress Points

Group 1: USA 13, Netherlands 12, Hungary 9, Italy 6.
Group 2: Spain 11, Greece 7, Australia 2, China 0.

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1 month ago

Australia is out what a dismal performance