Courtesy: World Aquatics
Netherlands and United States of America finished top of their groups on the final day of the World Aquatics Women’s Water Polo World Cup Division I first-round competition in Rotterdam on Thursday. Netherlands was the only unbeaten team over three days of the first round, downing Hungary 12-11 in Group A action while Greece gained its first victory with a 10-7 score against winless Australia. In Group B, USA held off Italy 14-13 and Spain eclipsed China 15-7. The second round will be played in Athens, Greece on April 19-21 where two more teams will qualify for the finals in June.
Netherlands 12 Hungary 11
Two of the best teams in the world and there could only be one winner. Netherlands came through to be the only unbeaten team after three days and deservedly took out top spot in the group heading into Athens next week. Dutch head coach Eve Doudesis was “satisfied” with the win. “Today we had spirit on attack. Mentally we are strong enough to compete at this level.”
Hungarian coach Attila Biro said: “We made too many mistakes. We did not deserve to win.” The match was tied at one, two, three, four, six, seven, eight and 10 as the quarter breaks were 2-2, 6-4 to the Dutch, 9-8 with the final quarter tied.
Netherlands looked a little sharper on attack and with Lieke Rogge stepping up to secure five goals to go with her three from the day before, the local win was assured. The margin could have been a little bigger if Netherlands could have taken advantage of the exclusion of Hungarian goalkeeper Alda Magyari in the final second of the third period. Netherlands won the swim-up, but had the ball intercepted before attempting a shot past the two defenders in goals, each with an arm up.
Lieke Rogge with five goals for Netherlands. She sat up and blasted from the top. She scored from a counter-attack cross pass and the first of her three goals in the final quarter was when she accepted a rather-too-high cross pass to the deep left to score. Hungarian centre forward Rebecca Parkes snapped in three goals from close, including two on extra-man attack in the final period.
Netherlands went from 4-3 down to 6-4 ahead by halftime. There were two more turns as Hungary kept fighting back — going from 8-8 three minutes from the final break to 10-8 at the top of the fourth. Hungary pulled it back to 10-10 and then Netherlands sent in two Lieke Rogge bullets for 12-10 with less than two minutes remaining.
Stats don’t lie:
Hungary had the better of the extra-man situations with six from 12. Netherlands converted three from eight and had one of its two penalty attempts blocked.
Netherlands has been pushing the limits in recent years and this third victory sets up the team for what could be a golden run, bringing back memories of those eight World Cup gold medals and three silvers from the past. Hungary will bounce back and introduce some new players to the team for next week’s second round.
United States of America 14 Italy 13
USA finished on top of the group with this victory, which was drawn at only one stage — 7-7 late in the second quarter. USA began the stronger with a 5-1 opening quarter, going 6-3 and 7-5. Then Italy struck back with two goals, first from an Agnese Cocchiere centre-forward backhand and a Claudia Marletta throw from the top. Four extra-man goals came next and USA was 10-8 ahead and on to 11-8 when Rachel Fattal found the net from well outside.
Italy crept back to 11-10 down and Maddie Musselman scored her third, on extra, to close the third quarter with a two-goal differential. The final quarter was explosive with Donatella Picozzi narrowing it to 12-11 and Musselman and Fattal dragging it out to 14-12. With the last minute signalled, Italian Dafne Bettini sent a missile to the top right and it was “game on”. Soon after, Italian head coach Carlo Silipo, who earlier gained a yellow card, was sent from the pool with a red card.
USA had a timeout after that and the assistant coach went crazy as players were tussling in the pool and was ejected as well. When Italy regained the ball off a steal, it called a timeout at seven seconds, and managed to get two shots blocked by Amanda Longan before the final buzzer sounded.
USA captain Maggie Steffens was the undoubted star, picking up three goals in the first quarter, a fourth in the second and a fifth in the third. She was matched by Musselman’s five, and throw in a pair from Fattal and it was the multi Olympic gold medallists who delivered 12 of the 14 goals. Picozzi scored four goals with four others netting twice for Italy.
The 5-1 opening quarter, after a blocked Italian penalty shot, was critical to the mental stability of the North American team. The other turning point could be the last two goals by Italy and the possibility of some calls against Italy proving costly, as alluded to by USA head coach Adam Krikorian.
Stats don’t lie:
USA converted six from 17 on extra-man attack and Italy three from 11. USA scored two from two from the penalty line and Italy none from one.
USA might have been lucky to win. Italy was unlucky not to have forced the match to a shootout. However, when they meet again in Athens next week, it might be another result. If the USA veterans maintain their rage, blending with the youngsters, then the scene is set for a great year of close women’s competition. Italy will be up to the task, that’s for certain.
Greece 10 Australia 7
Greece collected a first victory in defeating Australia, who led the match 3-0 before closing the first period 4-3 ahead and level at four by halftime. A three-goal spurt late in the third quarter took Greece from a goal behind to 8-6 up by the final break and then 9-6 soon after the restart.
The Aussie Stingers, also looking for a first win, pulled one back on extra-man attack at 3:16, but neither team could break the opponent’s defence until Nikoleta Eleftheriadou scored on counter from in front with 10 seconds left and 10-7.
The match became quite physical, and the strong Aussies made the most of the extra-man chances. Stingers head coach Paul Oberman rued the unnecessary heaviness of the match by both teams. They will both take positives from the match as they are still a distance from qualifying for the finals.
Eleftheriadou with her three goals, the first two for Greece spurring the comeback. However, she was one of Gabi Palm’s victims at the penalty line when Greece could have gone 10-6 ahead, instead Australia scoring at the other end to close the margin to two.
Greece coming from 3-0 down to be level at four by halftime. That and the three-goal surge in the third period that brought up 8-6 in its favour.
Stats don’t lie:
These supported the losing team as Australia nailed five from 10 on extra compared to Greece’s one from 10, showing how good the Aussie defence was. Also, Aussie goalkeeper Palm swatted away two of Greece’s three penalty attempts. Australia converted its sole shot.
Both teams look unsettled, being so early in the season, but produced some excellent plays. However, while Greece has a chance to qualify for the finals series, playing at home next week, Australia has a huge task to turn around its game and secure the wins needed to qualify.
Spain 15 China 7
This was a tale of two halves with Spain starting 2-0 and China scoring four straight, leading 4-2 and 5-3 before allowing Spain to level by halftime. From then on it was a romp for Spain as China stuttered through the second half, giving Spain a 10-2 advantage.
China worked hard and made positive inroads in the first half and would be wondering just how it managed to get the drop on the more experienced Spaniards, who delivered when required and picked up a second win to go with its heroic penalty-shootout success over United States of America. The five points are still not enough to qualify for the finals series, but that opportunity should be addressed in Athens next week.
Spanish head coach Miki Oca was happy with the result and the manner in which his team applied itself while Chinese head coach Haris Pavlidis said, while the second quarter was excellent, he could not turn the team around in such a short time to Athens.
Bea Ortiz led the way for Spain with four goals, one more than Elena Ruiz and Judith Forca. For China, Siya Yan scored in the first, second and fourth periods, sitting up high to shoot from outside.
The 6-1 third period. China proved a difficult opponent in the first half, but Spain scored six field goals to one Chinese extra-man score.
Stats don’t lie:
Spain made the most of its few opportunities with two from three on extra-man attack to China’s four from 12. Neither team had a penalty foul, such was the nature of the match.
Spain is the World Aquatics World League champion and one of the two best teams in the world last year, so the challenge of China was always going to be when, not how. It did take until deep into the second quarter before the dam collapsed. China has played some excellent water polo for such newcomers and the ultimate goal of Olympic qualification from the September Asian Games remains firmly in its mind.
Group A: Netherlands 9, Hungary 6, Greece 3, Australia 0.
Group B: USA 7, Italy 6, Spain 5, China 0.
The women’s team was simply magic all the way thru!
I really thought Italy was going to get’em in the closing seconds,
but TEAM USA was simply too tough!