Greece and China to battle for women's water polo gold

Shanghai 2011 - Water Polo

FINA will crown a new women's water polo champion on Friday.

Greece and China will play for gold in the FINA World Championship competition at the Natatorium on Friday.

Neither team has competed in the championship game before so new ground is being broken. Anointing a new champion will expand the class of five — USA, three times champion; Hungary and Italy twice; Australia and the Netherlands once.

For Greece it could be a fairytale finish to a wonderful tournament, not having won a medal of any colour at this event. Its progression to the gold-medal match was epitomised with a splendid effort against Italy, a less experienced opponent, but both played well with Greece emerging with the honours 14-11.

Greece was in fine touch with shooting, denting the reputation of Italian goalkeeper Giulia GORLERO, who was playing brilliantly in Shanghai until the Greek missiles started firing.

Greece blasted to an 8-5 halftime lead and 11-8 at three-quarter time before cruising to victory. Chief in the Italian destruction were Antigoni ROUMPESI and Angeliki GEROLYMOU with three goals each.

The second semifinal went the way of host China, a team with just the one medal in its cabinet — bronze at last year's FINA World Cup in Christchurch, New Zealand — a week before the centre of the city was virtually levelled in a devastating earthquake.

The stands certainly shook for China's 13-11 victory and the celebrations went long and hard. Hardest for MA Huanhuan, one of this tournament's favoured stars, who collapsed unconscious after the game and had to be carried to safety. It was not long before she was up and walking from the pool deck.

China led for much of the match, except for periods in the third and early fourth quarters. The winning margin was achieved 3:30 from time.

The undoubted star of the match was centre forward SUN Yating, who scored four goals, two with a devastating backhand.

Russia will now have to play for bronze, a medal it has won in three of the last four editions, punctuated by fourth in Montreal in 2005.

Greece was the first through to the championship match and brings a pedigree of medal success with silver at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games; gold at the 2005 FINA World League Super Final and silver at the 2010 European Championships. In Rome two years ago, Greece was fourth.

Greek captain Kyriaki LIOSI was almost lost for words at the victory: "We have not taken it in as yet. We really wanted this medal. We knew we could win and we were concentrating the whole time."

LIOSI made the 13-9 goal inside the final four minutes, which virtually sealed the game. On her emotion of scoring the goal when heavily defended close to the right post, LIOSI said: "Every Greek goal is important to me. I cheer my team-mates when they score. All goals are the same. I celebrate with my team."

Greek head coach George MORFESIS was equally ecstatic and rates the victory among his country's best. "We haven't realised what we have done yet. For us it is the best thing."

On what it means, he said: "After 2008 we did not have a good year but since then we have made a big leap."

On prospects for the final: "We have to see how they (his players) react after this important victory."

Italian head coach Fabio CONTI was upbeats after the loss. "We have played very well here. We have very good games against China and Australia. Greece is a very strong and more experienced team with good quality shots.

"Our defence was not good today but it is normal like this as we are not as experienced. I am very happy that they tried right until the end."

On playing for a bronze on Friday, CONTI said: "A bronze medal is a very good dream for us. If someone said to us at the start of the championships that we would play for a medal, it would have been a dream."

In the round of 5-8 semifinals, outgoing world champion United States of America downed Canada 8-4 after leading 4-2 at halftime. Australia turned on a classic display with a 12-7 defeat of Olympic champion Netherlands after gaining a halftime 8-3 advantage.

In the play-off for ninth place, Hungary was made to work against a fired-up Cuba, finally winning 2-7. Head coach Andreas MERESZ said it was hard for his team to get excited for a game that did not have medals at stake.

Spain sent off New Zealand 15-7 in the 11th-12th classification game with the winner 11-3 ahead at one stage.

The men's semifinal round will be played on Thursday with Olympic Hungary against world champion Serbia and Croatia taking on Italy — tantalising encounters indeed!