Super Final 2011 (Women): Unstoppable USA claims incredible sixth World League crown

World League

USA captain Jessica Steffens with FINA Bureau Liaison for water polo Mr. Dimitris Diathesopoulos and other USA teams members - credit: Russell McKinnonTIANJIN, China (June 19) - United States of America continued its domination of the FINA Women’s World League crown with an incredible sixth title against Italy in the gold-medal final at the Tianjin Olympic Centre Swimming & Diving Pool this evening.

The USA escaped the doldrums and a 7-7 tie inside the final five minutes to win 9-7. The top-of-the-dais effort means the North Americans have won all the major events for the last two years — 2009 World Championships, 2010 World Cup and three successive World Leagues — and is an ominous sign leading up to next year’s London Olympic Games. The only time in the eight editions of the World League that the USA did not stand on the podium was in Kirishi, Russia in 2005 (finishing fifth). In 2008, Russia had the better of the USA in the final.

For Brenda VILLA and Heather PETRI it was their sixth World League gold medal to go with their three Olympic medals and three FINA World Championship golds. VILLA, named to the Media All Star Team, also has World Cup gold in her collection. Betsy ARMSTRONG, voted the tournament’s best goalkeeper, secured her fourth gold medal along with Lauren WENGER, Elsie WINDES and Kameryn CRAIG. Three others took home their third golds and three more their second.

It was a second silver medal for Italy to go with the 2006 one, alongside two bronzes. Italy had not qualified the last two years and finished eighth at its last appearance in 2009.

USA head coach Adam KRIKORIAN said: “We escaped with a win. We missed a lot of six-on-five chances. They had a lot of momentum going into the game. “To come from behind and pull out a win shows a lot of character.” On what the tournament means leading into the FINA World Championships in Shanghai next month, KRIKORIAN said: “It’s great preparation for everyone here. All teams will now go back home and analyse the things they did well and not so well. They will make adjustments and bring their A game to Shanghai.” On winning five titles in the past two years: “I have a short memory. You are only as good as your next game.”

For Italian captain Elise CASANOVA, it was a wonderful moment. “We have a new team and we are very strong. They are younger and I am not. I am 38 but inside I am 15 or 16. I like to play with this team. We play all of the match and the spirit is OK. On what she will do tonight to celebrate making the final and taking home silver: “They will dance. I will sleep. They are young and I am not,” she said.

Australia won the battle for third place, beating China 7-5 after surviving many scares in the final minutes. China laid siege to the Australian goal for much of that time, regaining the ball off goalie deflections and two extra-man chances but not conversions. It was sad for China, playing at its best without GAO Ao, who missed the tournament through injury, but it was Australia’s day. For Australia, it was a fourth bronze medal to go with the two silvers won in the last two years.

Head coach Greg McFADDEN said he was “over the moon” with the victory. “It was a great team effort but we had to work on extra man. We nullified their extra man and they were lucky to score. We talked about what to do each quarter and it paid off. On the outlook for Shanghai next month: “I am happy where we are. We were unlucky against the USA and against Russia we had a bad start. It’s close at the top of the world. Now it’s Shanghai and we have a big game first up against Canada.”

Russia, so much feared this year but who stumbled against Italy to miss the semifinals, rolled Canada 14-9 for fifth place. In the first game of the tournament, Russia won 9-8 in the clash between the two. Russia head coach Alexander KABANOV said his team played better than the past few days. “The first game is always different and the players nervous. Today it was easy. We knew what to expect from them and expect from us.”


The winning team of USA - credit: Russell McKinnon
The winning team of USA - credit: Russell McKinnon


On the massive counter-attack success by Russia: “I think this is usually important. Our counter-attack was successful and we had many times where we were one and two players up. Maybe they didn’t want to swim today!”

Canadian head coach Pat OATEN was blunt about his team’s effort: “They scored eight counter-attack goals. It killed us. I felt there was never any flow to the game and we can’t convert the man up!”

Greece defeated Spain 14-8 for seventh place. It was Greece’s best quality play of the week and possibly Spain’s worst. Spain lost star centre forward M Carmen GARCIA with a bleeding wound near her right eye for the third period but returned for the fourth. Georgia LARA (GRE) said it was an important game. We will meet (Spain) for sure at the Worlds. Today was the best we could play. Most of the time we concentrated and did what we said we would do. “We tried some new things and most were helpful as the score was good and we won. Our extra (man) was good and we had a good rhythm, which is most important for us.”

Spanish head coach Miki OCA was most disappointed with the way his team lost. “I was very disappointed, much more than the first two days (when Spain lost 14-6 to Australia and Russia). We learned our lessons but then we didn’t. It hurts me because we should be getting better as the tournament progresses. We will learn and grow.”

With the World League Super Final completed, all eyes and focus will be on next month’s FINA World Championships in Shanghai.


Match reports:

MATCH 21, 15:00, CLASSIFICATION 7th & 8th, SPAIN 8 GREECE 14
Quarters: 3-4, 2-4, 0-2, 3-4

Referees: Amber DRURY (USA), MENG An Long (CHN)
Extra Man: ESP: 3/9. GRE: 6/14
Pens: ESP: 0/0. GRE: 0/0

Teams:
SPAIN: Ava COPADO, Blanca GIL (2), Ana ESPAR (1), Roser TARRAGO (1), Matilde ORTIZ (1), Jennifer PAREJA, Lorena MIRANDA, Pilar PENA, Andrea BLAS (1), Ona MESSEGUER (1), M. Carmen GARCIA (1), Marta BACH, Laura ESTER. Head Coach: Miguela OCA.

GREECE: Eleni KOUVDOU, Christina TSOUKALA (2), Antiopi MELIDONI (1), Ilektra Maria PSOUNI (1), Kyriaki LIOSI (1), Alkisti AVRAMIDOU (1), Alexandra ASIMAKI (2), Antigoni ROUMPESI, Angeliki GEROLYMOU (1), Triantafyllia MANOLIOUDAKI (4), Stavroula ANTONAKOU (1), Georgia LARA (1), Eleni GOULA. Head Coach: Georgios MORFESIS.

Greece played some of its best water polo of the tournament, coming from 1-0 down to lead 4-3 at the quarter and 9-4 by halftime. Spain tried hard against the onslaught but the forward strike power went out of Spain when star centre forward M Carmen GARCIA received a cut near her right eye while wrestling at two metres. She left the water with bloody streaming down her face, was treated poolside and returned for the fourth quarter.  Spain led through Blanca GIL from six metres but Alexandra ASIMAKI replied with the easiest of turning goals at two metres. GARCIA scored with a tip on from the left-post position for 2-1. Then Greece got serious with Triantafyllia MANOLIOUDAKI and Antiopi MELIDONI from the left-hand-catch position and Angeliki GEROLYMOU from the other side, taking Greece to 4-2. Roser TARRAGO scored an excellent lob from deep left six seconds from time for 4-3. Greece increased the tempo even further with Maria PSOUNI from the top; Kyriaki LIOSI on a drive on extra down the right and Christina TSOUKALA from the top on extra for 7-3. Spain called a timeout immediately after the goal to settle the team. Ona MESSEGUER scored on a counter for Spain but MANOLIOUDAKI jumped on a rebound to score and GIL scored three seconds from halftime to come within three of Greece at 8-5. Soon after the restart, GARCIA received her blood substitution. MANOLIOUDAKI scored from a rebound for 9-5. Greece called time and converted the extra-man attack through Stavroula ANTONAKOU. Greece led 10-5 at the final break. MANOLIOUDAKI started the fourth with a lob from deep right and Matilde ORTIZ received a short cross pass to the near post on extra for 11-6. The next three goals went to Greece with ASIMAKI lobbing at two metres, Alkisti AVRAMIDOU and TSOUKALA taking the score to 14-6. Spain scored the last two goals through Ana ESPAR on counter and Andrea BLAS from the top.


MATCH 22, 16:20, CLASSIFICATION 5th & 6th, RUSSIA 14 CANADA 9
Quarters: 4-1, 2-2, 4-2, 4-4

Referees: Noel HARROD (AUS), John WALDOW (NZL)
Extra Man: RUS: 0/6. CAN: 4/9
Pens: RUS: 2/2. CAN: 2/2

Teams:
RUSSIA: Maria KOVTUNOVSKAYA, Nadezhda FEDOTOVA (2), Ekaterina PROKOFYEVA (3), Sofia KONUKH (2), Alexandra ANTONOVA, Victoria KUROCHKINA, Ekaterina LISUNOVA (1), Ekaterina TANKEEVA (1), Olga BELYAEVA (3), Evgenia IVANOVA (1), Yulia GAUFLER, Ekaterina ZELENTSOVA,. Head Coach: Alexander KABANOV.

CANADA: Rachel RIDDELL, Krystina ALOGBO (1), Katrina MONTON, Emily CSIKOS (2), Sophie BARON LA SALLE (1), Whitney GENOWAY (1), (Rosanna TOMIUK (1), Dominique PERREAULT (1), Monika EGGENS, (1) Hanna YELIZAROVA (1), Tara CAMPBELL (1), Marina RADU, Serena BREDIN. Head Coach: Pat OATEN.


RUS vs CAN - credit: Russell McKinnon
RUS vs CAN - credit: Russell McKinnon


Russia ran away with the match against Canada, or more precisely, swam away, especially on counter attack. It made the task look easy and showed why Russia should have been in the semifinals. Russia took control of the first half, remembering well the tough game on day one where it was 3-3 at halftime. Olga BELYAEVA scored first from centre forward and KRYSTINA ALOGBO replied, claiming a rebound and slowly shooting from in close. In just over three minutes Russia had three more. BELYAEVA sent in a backhand goal from two metres, Nadezhda FEDOTOVA scored on extra from deep and Ekaterina PROKOFYEVA netted on the drive for 4-1, 11 seconds from the buzzer. Hanna YELIZAROVA converted a penalty for Canada (her eighth goal for the week). PROKOFYEVA gained a deflection of her shot from the top and EVGENIYA SOBOLEVA converted from the penalty line for 6-2. Whitney GENOWAY eased the pain for Canada on a short drive six seconds from halftime. Monika EGGENS rifled one in from the top, two minutes into the third period. BELYAEVA scored her third and 10th for the tournament from centre forward, followed by a PROKOFYEVA lob at the end of counter. Tara CAMPBELL replied for Canada but Sofia KONUKH and Evgenia IVANOVA lifted Russia to 10-5, the last with a swift drive on counter down the right. FEDOTOVA scored on extra and Canada replied through Rosanna TOMIUK on penalty for 11-6. Evgenia IVANOVA was suspended at this time. Canada used its first timeout at 6:22 but no score. KONUKH shifted at two metres and received an angled pass to score from the far post. Emily CSIKOS scored a skip shot on extra for 12-7.  Ekaterina LISUNOVA scored a penalty goal and Ekaterina TANKEEVA drove down the left to score at 1:51 for 14-7. Canada used a second timeout and Sophie BARON LA SALLE converted the extra. CSIKOS grabbed her second on extra in the last three seconds for 11 during the tournament. As an aside, the match was the last that long-serving international referee Noel HARROD (AUS) would officiate a senior FINA match.


MATCH 23, 17:40, CLASSIFICATION 3rd & 4th, AUSTRALIA 7 CHINA 5

Quarters: 1-2, 2-2, 2-1, 2-0

Referees: Filippo GOMEZ (ITA), Marie-Claude DESLIERES (CAN)
Extra Man: AUS: 1/6. CHN: 2/10
Pens: AUS: 1/1. CHN: 0/0

Teams:
AUSTRALIA: Alicia McCORMACK, Gemma BEADSWORTH (2), Sophie SMITH, Rebecca RIPPON (1), Jane MORAN, Ashleigh SOUTHERN (1), Rowena WEBSTER (1), Kate GYNTHER (1), Keesja GOFERS, Holly LINCOLN-SMITH, Nicola ZAGAME, Kelsey WAKEFIELD. Head Coach: Alexander OSADCHUK.

CHINA: YANG Jun, TENG Fei, LIU Ping, SUN Yujun, HE Jin, SUN Yating (1), SONG Donglun (1), CHEN Yuan, WANG Yi, MA Huanhuan (3), SUN Huizi, ZHANG Lei, WANG Ying. Head Coach: Juan JANE GIRALT.


AUS vs CHN - credit: Russell McKinnon
AUS vs CHN - credit: Russell McKinnon


Australia finished on top of China for the bronze medal after not gaining the lead until two minutes in the final quarter. It was a controlled water polo from both sides but Australia’s superior extra-man defence proved critical. Frequent training partners, Australia and China were going to provide a tight game. Aussie Stingers captain Kate GYNTHER opened the scoring on penalty at 3:49. SUN Yating made the most of a loose ball and poor Australian defence to push the ball into goal from one metre on the next attack. SONG Donglun rifled in a shot from deep on the left, careering in off the far post for 2-1 at the quarter. MA Huanhuan made it 3-1 with a lob on extra. Two minutes later Ash SOUTHERN drove down the right and threaded a goal past the defence. Rowena WEBSTER levelled the game at 3-3 a minute after. MA struck again 1:15 from halftime with a straight shot from the left side of the pool across the cage, catching out Aussie goalkeeper Kelsey WAKEFIELD. China would have been pleased with its lead and a half, which was easily its best of the tournament. Gemma BEADSWORTH smashed one in from the top to level at 4-4. Australia showed some good defence on extra but the defender dropped off MA, against the coach’s orders and she shot from well out with a well-aimed projectile for 5-4 at 6:21. Australia called timeout at 5:21 on extra. For TENG Fei it was her third foul. No score came from the ploy but three minutes later SOUTHERN scored her second for 5-5. In the fourth period China went to a timeout for no joy but Australia scored on the next attack when Rebecca RIPPON sent in an acute-angled shot to take the lead for the first time. There was still six minutes left and China had most of the attack and in one instance twice regained the ball off a shot and gained extra man but no score came. The game was put beyond doubt when BEADSWORTH lobbed from six metres at 2:04. China had four more attacks and two extra-man chances until the buzzer but could not find a hole and had to settle for fourth, one placing south of the historic bronze medal gained at last year’s FINA World Cup in Christchurch, New Zealand.

MATCH 24, 19:00, CLASSIFICATION 1st & 2nd, ITALY 7 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 9

Quarters: 1-2, 3-1, 1-3, 2-3

Referees: Gabor VOGEL (HUN), German MOLLER (ARG)
Extra Man: ITA: 2/12. USA 5/12
Pens: ITA: 0/0. USA: 0/1

Teams:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Elizabeth ARMSTRONG, Heather PETRI, Melissa SEIDEMANN (1), Brenda VILLA (1), Lauren WENGER, Courtney MATHEWSON (1), JESSICA STEFFENS, LAUREN SILVER (1), Elsie WINDES (1), Kelly RULON (2), Annika DRIES (1), Kameryn CRAIG, Margaret STEFFENS. HEAD COACH: Adam KRIKORIAN.

ITALY: Giulia GORLERO, Simona ABBATE (1), Elisa CASANOVA (2), Giulia RAMBALDI, Martina SAVIOLI, Alegra LAPI, Marta COLAIOCCO, Roberta BIANCONI (4), Giulia EMMOLO (6), Francesca POMERI (2), Aleksandra COTTI, Teresa FRASSINETTI (3), Elisa QUEIROLO (3). Head Coach: Fabio CONTI.


ITA vs USA - credit: Russell McKinnon
ITA vs USA - credit: Russell McKinnon


The tournament went to script when the USA beat Italy in the gold-medal final but Italy paid no heed to it and led midway through the third period and came back to level the game inside the final five minutes. The USA appeared to have a dream start with a penalty foul sending Kelly RULON to the line. However were shot was blocked by Giulia GORLERO. Italy did not miss on the next attack with Roberta BIANCONI drilling a shot from the top on extra. Brenda VILLA and Courtney MATHEWSON both scored on left-hand catch with the second goal coming three seconds from the buzzer to give the USA a 2-1 lead. Then came the LAPI factor. It was Alegra LAPI, so quiet all tournament when it comes to scoring, who stood up big time and scored three goals in the second quarter. All were from out the top with the middle shot coming in from downtown Beijing with a lob. The only joy for USA was Margaret STEFFENS on extra, also from outside. Italy proved that losing the first three games meant nothing. Italy took a timeout early in the third but no goal eventuated. But a minute later it was captain Elise CASANOVA who set the place alight with a fierce drive and shot while her head was underwater. Lauren WENGER bravely took the full impact of the drive but the sneaky shot caught Betsy ARMSTRONG unawares. At 5-3 ahead most people were stunned but not the North Americans. Firstly it was Annika DRIES in the hole who leaned over and flicked in a rebounded ball. Two minutes later, coach Adam KRIKORIAN called a timeout, got the whiteboard out and instructed his team what to do. MATHEWSON finished the plan from the five-metre line on extra to tie the game for the fourth time. As the time ticked down, RULON made amends for the missed penalty by lobbing from five metres four seconds from the final break. The championship quarter had arrived and the USA, sniffing a sixth crown, sent the ball deep left to the go-to girl, MATHEWSON, who squeezed in her third in the bottom left for 7-5. Italy struck back within a minute through BIANCONI on right-hand catch. BIANCONI chanced her arm again when she sent in a missile, hitting the right upright, bouncing off the back of ARMSTRONG and into goal for 7-7 at 4:47. VILLA then screamed in a shot, sweeping it around her body, cross-cage into the left at 3:57 and the lead. BIANCONI missed a big lob, hitting the right upright. At 2:16, Margaret STEFFENS scored the exact way VILLA did less than two minutes before, giving the USA a huge 9-7 advantage in such a tight game. BIANCONI fell off the shot on extra on the next attack. Both teams had attacks blocked before USA went to a timeout. The plan was to waste time and an ejection was gained. The ball was wasted  until 12 seconds but the last shot from Elisa QUEIROLO barely made ARMSTRONG. USA was a six-times winner and $100,000 richer.


FINAL PLACINGS
1. United States of America
2. Italy
3. Australia
4. China  
5. Russia
6. Canada
7. Greece
8. Spain

MEDIA ALL STAR TEAM
Goalkeeper: Betsy ARMSTRONG (USA)
Centre Forward: Olga BELYAEVA (RUS)
Left-Hander: Giulia EMMOLO (ITA)
Drivers: Sofia KONUKH (RUS)
Kate GYNTHER (AUS)
MA Huanhuan (CHN)
Brenda VILLA (USA)


LEADING GOAL-SCORERS
14Sofia KONUKH (RUS)
13
Blanca GIL (ESP)
12
Giulia EMMOLO (ITA)
12
Evgenia IVANOVA (RUS)
12
MA Huanhuan (CHN)
11
Emily CSIKOS (CAN)
11
Ekaterina PROKOFYEVA (RUS)
10
Jennifer PAREJA (ESP)
10
Bronwen KNOX (AUS)
10
Olga BELYAEVA (RUS)
9
M Carmen GARCIA (ESP)
9
Alexandra ASIMAKI (GRE)
9
Kate GYNTHER (AUS)
8
Roberta BIANCONI (ITA)
8
Antigoni ROUMPESI (GRE)
8
Simona ABBATE (ITA)
8
MANOLIOUDAKI  (GRE)
8
Hanna YELIZAROVA (CAN)
8
SUN Yating (CHN)
7
TENG Fei (CHN)
7
Krystina ALOGBO (CAN)
7
Ona MESSEGUER (ESP)
7
Stavroula ANTONAKOU (GRE)
7
FEDOTOVA (RUS)
6
Kelly RULON (USA)
6
Ashleigh SOUTHERN (AUS)
6
Sophie BARON LA SALLE (CAN)
5
Aleksandra COTTI (ITA)
5
Natalia RYZHOVA-ALENICHEVA (RUS)
5
Brenda VILLA (USA)
5
SUN Yujun (CHN)