Super Final 2012 (Men): China almost upsets World champion Italy

World League

ESP vs BRA - credit: Saken NigmashevKAZAKHSTAN, Almaty (June 12) - The FINA Water Polo World League Super Final kicked off in the splendid city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. The venue of the summer’s biggest water polo showcase (besides the Olympics, of course) could not be more suitable for the occasion, the 10th anniversary of the first FINA World League Super Final: a fine outdoor pool bathing in sunshine with spectacular views of the magnificent, snow-capped mountains in the background.

The spectacular opening ceremony featured national folk-dancers to the delight of the crowd. On behalf of FINA, Bureau Member and Technical Water Polo Committee Liaison, Dimitris Diathesopoulos addressed those in the stands and at poolside. The event was officially opened by the Mayor of Almaty, Ahmedzan Esimov. The first day of action almost brought the first upset of the tournament as China challenged the Italians for the duration of the game, only to settle a narrow loss to the current World champions.

Match reports

Game 1: 13:30, Group B, CROATIA 14 - AUSTRALIA 11
(6-2, 3-2, 4-2, 1-5)
Referees: Irfan Sadekov (RUS), Filippo Gomez (ITA)
FINA Delegate: Evgeny Sharonov
CROATIA: Josip Pavic – Damir Buric, Miho Boskovic 2, Niksa Dobud, Maro Jokovic 2, Andelo Setka 1, Petar Muslim 3, Andro Buslje 1, Sandro Sukno 3, Samir Barac, Igor Hinic 1, Ivan Buljubasic 1. Head coach: Ratko Rudic.
AUSTRALIA: Joel Dennerley – Richard Campbell 2, Timothy Cleland 1, John Cotterill 1, Robert Maitland, Anthony Martin, Aidan Roach, Samuel McGregor 1, Thomas Whalan 1, Aaron Younger, Jamie Beadsworth 2, William Miller 3. Head coach: John Fox.

Croatia: 8 for 12
Australia: 6 for 10

Croatia: 2 for 3
Australia: 0 for 1

AUS vs CRO - credit: Saken Nigmashev

Croatia started the opening game in commanding mood: they scored four connecting goals after 2-2 and earned a 6-2 lead in eight minutes. Their powerplay was the key and this picture didn't change in the following two periods. They scored eight goals on their first 10 man-ups, the other two were missed through the violation of the 2m-rule. The Aussies couldn't neutralise the Croatians' shooting skills, and in fact their starting goalie, Joel Dennerley didn’t enjoy the best day of his career... The difference was also clear in defending: while the Croatians used more sophisticated tools to mark their opponents, the Aussies' raw style wasn’t tolerated by the referees, which resulted in a handful of added powerplay opportunities for the Croats, though their disciplined playing system of feeding the centre-forward also worked well in this game.

Ratko Rudic’s team widened the gap easily and earned a massive 13-6 lead in 24 minutes – the remaining eight saw a late come-back of the Australians who took advantage of the dramatic lapse of their rivals' concentration level, which was highlighted by a series of defensive errors and a missed penalty. Still, the Croatians' victory was never endangered.

Game 2: 14:50, Group A, ITALY 10 – CHINA 9
(2-2, 2-3, 4-2, 2-2)
Referees: Joaquin Fernandez Escola (ESP), Mark Koganov (AZE)
FINA Delegate: Boukezouha Badreddine
ITALY: Stefano Tempesti – Valerio Rizzo 1, Niccolo Gitto, Pietro Figlioli 2, Alex Giorgetti 1, Maurizio Felugo 1, Niccolo Figari, Valentino Gallo 1, Christian Presciutti 1, Deni Fiorentini 1, Daniel Premus, Arnaldo Deserti 2, Tamas Marcz. Head coach: Alessandro Campagna.
CHINA: Ge Weiqing – Tan Feihu 1, Liang Zhongsing 2, Zhu Gelin, Guo Jungliang 2, Zhang Jian, Li Bin 1, Wang Yang, Xie Junmin 1, Dong Tianyi, Zhang Chufeng 1, Liang Nianxiang 1, Gu Liang. Head coach: Rick Azevedo.

Italy: 0 for 3
China: 5 for 6

Italy: 1 for 3
China: 1 for 1

ITA vs CHN - credit: Saken Nigmashev

When the Italians missed a penalty (not the last one...) in the first period and China levelled the score from the following attack for 2-2, it seemed just a minor accident. But it wasn’t. The reigning World champions lacked their usual edge and they had to battle hard to earn a 4-2 lead with 2:29 to go in the second period. What came next was something special: the Chinese netted three goals on three attacks within a span of 90 seconds. Two finely tuned 6 on 5s and Guo Jungliang’s second hit with 0:03 remaining on the clock gave the Asian team a rather surprising 5-4 lead by half-time.

The Italians found themselves right in a middle of a dogfight as the Chinese played quite disciplined, didn’t get tired and made the best of their opportunities. They always found a way to answer, led 7-6 deep into the third quarter and when the Italians missed another penalty they seemed to face a huge upset. Still, their skills and wider knowledge of the game brought them back as they scored two in the last minute of this period. Alex Giorgietti’s blast opened the final quarter for 9-7, but the Chinese weren’t done, converted a penalty for 10-9 and had two attacks to equalise. But they couldn’t harm the Italian defence this time and Fiorentini’s fine shot seemed to have decided the outcome (10-8). The Chinese tried desperately but were able to score only with 51 seconds to go – and the Italians managed to keep the ball until the final whistle.

Game 3: 16:10, Group B, BRAZIL 3 - SPAIN 8
(3-3, 0-2, 0-2, 0-1)
Referees: Alan Balfanbayev (KAZ), Steven Rotstart (USA)
FINA Delegate: Haluk Toygarli
BRAZIL: Thye Bezerra – Caio Lima, Henrique Miranda 1, Gustavo Coutinho, Cesar Queiroz Junior, Bernardo Gomes, Jonas Crivella, Felipe Silva 1, Bernardo Rocha, Ruda Franco, Gustavo Guimaraes, Danilo Correa. Head coach: Carlos Carvalho.
SPAIN: Inaki Aguilar – Mario Garcia 1, Blai Mallarach 1, Balazs Sziranyi, Guillermo Molina, Marc Minguell 1, Ivan Gallego 1, Albert Espanol, Xavi Valles 1, Felipe Perrone 1, Ivan Perez, Javier Garcia 2. Head coach: Rafael Aguilar.

Brazil: 2 for 2
Spain: 4 for 9

Penalties: none

ESP vs BRA - credit: Saken Nigmashev
ESP vs BRA - credit: Saken Nigmashev

After eight minutes the game promised another huge fight and unexpected excitement but the Spaniards tightened up their defence to avoid facing a situation similar to the Italians had against China. It was the usual Spanish way of winning the game: defending with the utmost discipline and never taking any risk while in attack. It worked out pretty well as they managed to shut-out the Brazilians for the entire 24 minutes remaining (during these quarters no exclusion was called against the Spanish as their well organised zonal defence worked perfectly).

Valles scored one in the beginning of the second period and Mario Garcia added another one with 1:07 minutes before half-time. The pattern was the same in the third: a goal at the beginning and another one towards the end of the quarter. The first came from a 6 on 5 (by Gallego) and the second from action, courtesy of Felipe Perrone (a former Brazilian player). The final goal of the game was netted by Blai Mallarach in the middle of the last period – and the Spanish collected their first win with ease.

Game 4: 18:15, Group A, USA 11 - KAZAKHSTAN 8 
(4-4, 4-1, 2-0, 1-3)
Referees: Ni Shiwei (CHN), Nenad Peris (CRO)
FINA Delegate: Gyorgy Martin
USA: Merryl Moses – Peter Valleras 3, Peter Hudnut, Jeff Powers 1, Adam Wright, Shea Buckner 2, Layne Beaubien 1, Tony Azevedo 3, Ryan Bailey 1, Tim Hutten, Jesse Smith, JW Krumpholz. Head coach: Terry Schroeder.
KAZAKHSTAN: Nikolay Maximov – Sergey Gubarev, Nikita Kokorin, Murat Shakenov, Alexey Panfili 3, Alexey Shmider, Vladimir Ushakov 1, Rustam Ukumanov 1, Evgeniy Zhilyayev 1, Mikhail Ruday 1, Ravil Manafov 1, Sergey Gorovoy. Head coach: Sergey Drozdov.

USA: 7 for 9
Kazakhstan: 5 for 9

Double extra
USA: none
Kazakhstan: 1 for 1

USA: none
Kazakhstan: 1 for 1

USA vs KAZ - credit: Saken Nigmashev

The Americans, fresh from wins over European powerhouses Hungary and Croatia in lead-up games played in California, played with tremendous confidence against the hosts who were able to keep up with them only for the first eight minutes. In the opening period, the Kazakhs managed to climb back from 2-4 to 4-4, credit to Panfili’s fine shot which just beat the buzzer.

But the first minutes of the second quarter proved to be decisive as the U.S. players hit three in a row. Their 6 on 5 was flawless for a while, they buried 6 out of 6 until the middle of the third period with Shea Buckner and Tony Azevedo netting two apiece from the left-wing position, and Ryan Bailey and Jeff Powers added goals from the wall. The Americans sit comfortably in the driving seat after denying all efforts of the Kazakhs in the third period while netting two more goals. Varellas' third goal of the afternoon gave a 11-5 lead to the Americans who thought it was time to pull one or even two gears back. It opened the way to a late surge from the hosts who scored three connecting goals for 11-8 with 3:08 on the clock but that was the end of the story this time: the Americans tightened up their defence and that was enough to secure their well-deserved win.