Water polo (W) day 1 - Spain upset world 2011 silver medallist China

London 2012 Water Polo

Olympic qualification tournament winner Spain upset world number 2 China by a surprising 11-6 margin in the opening Group A preliminary match of the women's competition at the Water Polo Arena on Monday. It was only two minutes into the second quarter when Spain took control and started to swim away from the Chinese. China earned a silver medal at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. That margin went to 4-2 before China struck back to even the score at 4-4. From that point on the Spanish armada took over, going ahead 6-4 at half time and then 10-6 at the final break.

The stunned Chinese, who were late leaving the pool deck after the match were kept scoreless. The Spanish team, less experienced and slightly younger pressed home their advantage with Anni Espar (ESP) attaining her hat-trick of goals in the only score of the fourth quarter.

Spain spread the goals around and their smothering defence upset the rhythm of the Chinese team. The 2011 silver medallists were outclassed by the skills of the Spanish. In the critical extra-man advantage situations China missed five of eight attempts while Spain netted three goals from four opportunities. Spain's star performers were centre back Marta Bach for her deft play before drawing her third and final major foul late in the third period, and goalkeeper Laura Ester.  

China's Ma Huanhuan, the most valuable player from the 2011 FINA World Championship was the team's top scorer netting three goals. Yang Jun (CHN) who was named the best goalkeeper of the 2010 FINA World Cup was far from her best form in today's match and was replaced in the fourth quarter. 

Jennifer Pareja (ESP) explained her team's work ethic and the vulnerability of the Chinese. "We've been practicing everything but today was particularly easy to score from 5 metres because of China's defence style." Spain's coach Miguel Oca spoke after the game: "It wasn't easy. We had a very good game but this match does not reflect the real situation with the Chinese team. We have a very young team and these are our first Olympic Games. We have to put our feet on the ground and we need to relax for our next game against the USA."

Chinese coach Juan Jane offered his assessment: "We started well but in the middle of the game we offered them big bonuses by committing two or three huge defensive mistakes. It broke our game. We didn't perform well in some positions and our goal keeping was bad." Tang Fei (CHN) agreed: "Something was wrong with our defence, it wasn't strong enough. In the next couple of days we will correct our mistakes and change our strategies."

A pleasant reunion after today's match between the two team coaches. Spanish coach Oca was a gold medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games playing under coach Juan Jane (ESP). Jane is the Chinese coach at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Australia stings Italy in Group B opener

Australia captain Kate Gynther left her 2012 FINA World League Silver medallist teammates to a 10-8 victory over Italy, the European champions in the opening Group B match.

Three-time Olympian Kate Gynther scored three goals including a spectacular drag down shot from two metres in the third period. Australia raced to a 2-0 lead before Italy responded to stay within one goal at the end of the first quarter, 2-1. Two goals from Nicola Zagame (AUS) helped put Australia up 4-1.  

Italy responded with one goal each from Federica Radicchi (ITA) and another from 2004 Olympic champion Tania Di Mario to tie the game at 4's at halftime. The outcome of the match was decided in the third period as Australia kept Italy scoreless while advancing the margin to 8-4.   

Italy came back strong in the final quarter netting 4 goals to Australia's two. The 2004 gold medallist Di Mario (ITA) scored twice in the final period. Aniko Pelle (ITA), who switched allegiance from Hungary earlier this year, scored Italy's and the game's final goal four minutes before the final horn.


Russia's experience trumps Great Britain's first appearance in Olympic women's water polo

Russia, the only European team to play in all four women's Olympic water polo competitions, beat the newcomers from Great Britain by one goal in today's Group B match. A huge home crowd urged the British team to play on against their more experienced opponent, but they fell short losing 6-7.

Francesca Painter-Snell (GBR) opened the scoring early in the first quarter by firing in a penalty to the goalkeeper's right. Russia responded quickly and soon they took the lead. Great Britain levelled the game at 4's with 4:33 remaining in the second quarter. Each team scored once more to make it 5-5 at half time.

Angie Winstaley-Smith (GBR) scored her third goal to level the score at 6-6 early in the fourth quarter. Russia's experience and the intensity of their defence left the Brit's shooting wide or directly into the clutches of their opponents goalkeeper. Ekaterina Prokofyeva (RUS) and veteran Olga Beliaeva (RUS) each scored two goals.

A win for the home team proved to be just out of reach. Instead the luck went with Russia's way as the winning goal was dealt by Evgeniya Ivanova (RUS), a sharp shooter at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Ivanova won possession on a counter attach when it appeared the ball was in the air as the referee blew the whistle. This confused the defence and spectators alike.

Each team's extra man attacks were in polished form: Russia netted three of four attempts and Great Britain successfully converted on two of three extra man possessions. One troubling statistic for the Olympic newcomers were shots on goal: Great Britain had 33 compared to the more efficient Russian team who took 11 fewer shots.

Asked about the narrow victory Russian coach Alexander Kabanov replied: "Everything can happen in sport but I wasn't afraid. I was sure that we would win. We expected this game to be difficult, but we didn't use our full capacity. I have eight first time Olympians on this team and they were affected, certainly."

Rosie Morris, (GBR) expressed her disappointment. "I'm a bit gutted to be honest, to have come so close. It's hard but we have the positives which we can take from the game. It's incredible, the crowd was so noisy, they were great, every time they cheer it spurs you on". 


USA's Steffens sets Olympic record in victory over Hungary

Maggie Steffens (USA) tied an Olympic Games record with seven goals as the USA outlasted Hungary, 14-13, in their Group A match. Courtney Mathewson (USA) added four goals and Betsey Armstrong (USA) went the distance in net, stopping six shots in the victory. The USA never trailed in the high scoring affair but the match was tied on four occasions. 

Steffens started her scoring barrage almost immediately as she punched in a counter attack goal some 30 seconds into the match for a 1-0 lead. Hungary answered on their next possession to even the score at 1-1. A few minutes later USA created some temporary breathing room when Steffens scored consecutive goals to grab a 3-1 advantage with 2:56 left. The USA defence stepped up moments later as Armstrong denied a penalty shot try by Hungary. 

The euphoria for the US team was short lived with Hungary finding the cage seconds later to make it a 3-2 match. Less than twenty seconds after that goal, it was Mathewson (USA) hitting on a power play try and the United States went up 4-2. Hungary would have the last word in the period, scoring on a counter attack goal with just eight seconds to play, drawing to within 4-3 after the first.

Team USA went back in front by a pair when Kelly Rulon (USA) got behind the defence for a score and a 5-3 match. Hungary responded with two straight goals in the next 90 seconds evening the game once more, this time at 5-5. A minute later it was Steffens again, this time on a power play, pushing the USA in front, 6-5. Then there was more Steffens, on a penalty shot drawn by Rulon, putting the United States ahead 7-5 with 3:33 to play. Hungary showed their resiliency once more, answering with two straight scores to knot the match at 7-7 with 1:48 to play. Steffens answered last in the period hitting on a power play goal with 1:18 to go in the half, her sixth tally giving the USA an 8-7 lead at halftime.

Hungary wasted little time tying the match in the third, finding the cage early in the period to make the score 8-8. The United States answered with two straight goals, the first from Kami Craig (USA) on a power play in front of the cage, and the second on a skipshot from Steffens. Trailing 10-8, the Hungarians started to chip away with a power play score at the 3:41 mark of the period, closing to within 10-9. Team USA looked to squash the Hungarian rally with a goal late in the third by Brenda Villa (USA) and early in the fourth by Mathewson, to take a 12-9 lead, their biggest advantage of the match.

The contest was far from over as Hungary scored two straight goals closing to within 12-11 with 6:16 to play. Two minutes later, Mathewson completed the hat trick with her third goal, on a power play, giving the United States a 13-11 lead. Hungary responded with a power play score of their own with 2:18 left, but the USA turned back to Mathewson who connected from distance for a 14-12 lead. Hungary mounted one final charge getting a backhand from Barbara Bujka, her fourth goal of the match, to close within one at 14-13 with less than a minute to play. Future attempts by Hungary would be foiled by the United States and Team USA hung on for the one goal victory. Barbara Bujka (HUN) and Dora Antal (HUN) each scored three goals for the Hungarian squad. Both teams had commendable extra man attacks with the USA netting six from eight and Hungary converting on four of their six attempts.

The US victory over Hungary marked the sixth consecutive defeat of the Hungarian squad in 2012. Andras Meresz the Hungarian coach offered his perspective: "For those who guess this would be another massacre, we showed the real face of our team. The goals scored from distance are fine proof that our team is physically and mentally prepared. Netting a goal from seven or eight meters requires strength and braveness." Rita Dravucz (HUN) was reflective: "I feel good and I'm not too disappointed with the result. I think we should improve on our six-on-five play. I think there was a lack of concentration in our game. We should play better and make less faults in the forthcoming games."

USA's Maggie Steffens' seven goals equalled the output by Danielle de Bruijn (NED) in the Gold Medal match at the 2008 Olympic Games, ironically against the USA team which lost the game but earned a silver medal. Steffen's seven goals are also a record for an Olympic debut. Steffens was asked about equalling the record for the most individual goals scored in a match: "I had no idea that they kept records like that. I was just thinking about what the next play was. That's very much the USA mind set. It's not about the goals, it's about the games you win and that's what takes you through, hopefully to the very end."

Maggie Steffens (USA) offered her thoughts about scoring 7 of the USA's 14 goals. "It's not easy at all. I wanted the ball in the net. It's go, go, go, and you try to practice for this, but nothing compares to the feeling of adrenaline. The first game is always rough and it was great to play an aggressive fast team like Hungary and get everything out there and get through the nerves. It was really fun to get out there and finally play. We've been waiting a week and it's good to get over the jitters."  Steffens is the younger sister of Beijing silver medallist Jessica Steffens (USA), also competing for the USA.