Water polo (W) day 3 - Spanish victory over Hungary earns top Group A ranking

London 2012 Water Polo

altSpain's women sensationally finished at the top of Group A with a 13-11 victory over Hungary at the London Olympic Water Polo Arena on Friday. Spain has won two matches and drew even with the USA, but they win the group ahead of the USA based on the second tie breaker, the result against the third place team Hungary. USA beat Hungary 14-13 while Spain won their match against the same team by a margin of two goals, yielding the top spot in the group rankings. This scenario is predicated on the USA beating China in the final match of the day at 19:40, where a USA victory will earn five points after three days of competition, but placement below the Spanish team.

Spain's win today came in the fading seconds of the match. Spain dominated the game holding three goal leads on four occasions. Hungary struck back delivering two goals in the last 90 seconds of the match. Dora Czigany (HUN) provided the goal down result at 11-12 with 49 seconds left and called a timeout with 21 seconds on the clock. Spain earned a turnover foul and went to a timeout with 12 seconds on the close. A major foul was called outside five metres and Spain whipped the ball to the two metre line where Anni Espar (ESP) drilled it home for a two goal winning margin with two seconds left.

Spain will play the fourth ranked team in Group B in Sunday's quarterfinal match however they may be without their head coach Miguel Oca. The Spanish coach earned a red card during the final time out when he protested a referee's decision. Normally a red card receives a one match suspension but a decision by the FINA Technical Water Polo committee has not yet been rendered. Hungary's stars were Dora Antal (HUN) with four goals and centre-forward Barbara Bujka (HUN) who scored three times.

Hungarian skipper Andras Meresz (HUN) revealed: "We agreed what elements of play we should use and how but 80% of those elements were done totally differently in the match. I don't know the reasons and I'll bet the players cannot tell you either. What we lacked today was discipline. If you try to play this sport without it you will beat yourself. Either we play Australia or Russia (in our next match) and we cannot commit so many mistakes. And I can tell you, if we want to win against these teams we cannot commit a single one at all."

Hungarian player Rita Dravucz (HUN) agreed with her coach: "Unfortunately in our heads we were not a team. On Sunday we definitely have to win (our next match)." Teammate Orsolya Takacs (HUN) reported: "Everything is still on the edge. It's still going on. European teams are not so famous for the scratching and the fighting, but it was going on."


Australia edges Russia for their third victory

Australia beat Russia 11-8 to wrap up Group B with a third consecutive victory in the women's Olympic tournament. Australia led 6-4, 8-5 and 8-6 at the breaks and successfully repulsed a strong challenger from Russia. Like Australia, Russia was unbeaten going into the match.

Australia is the only women's team with three victories at these Olympics, but reminders of the scenario of Beijing 2008 abound. It's possible that Australia is destined for a semi-final showdown with FINA world cup and world league champions USA, should they both win their quarterfinals. Before the tournament, Australia and the USA were tipped to win their groups and not meet until the final, setting up a rematch of the June FINA world league super final.

Three counter attack goals from Nicola Zagame (AUS) and superbly goal keeping from Alicia McCormack (AUS) showed the brilliance of the Australians. The team from down under is capable of repeating their performance from the Sydney 2000 predecessors who won the first women's Olympic goal medal. Ten goals in the opening quarter seemed to sap the energy from both sides. Fewer strikes against the goal were made in the middle half of the match, largely due to high pressure defence from each team.

Russia brought the match to within one goal, three minutes into the final period. Two long range goals from Rowie Webster (AUS) and team captain Kate Gynther (AUS) gave Australia the momentum they need heading into the quarterfinals. Ekaterina Lisunova (RUS) scored three goals for Russia, including one from the penalty line.  

Russian head coach Alexander Kabanov expressed concern about his team's preparation: "The match hasn't been of big importance for us. Unfortunately there are those sort of matches as well. Obviously my players haven't been focused and it was difficult for them to be focused. Australia is very strong physically and is easy for them to be focused all the time." Russian player Olga Beliaeva (RUS) shared his vision about their opponent: "The first and second games we played better, but today was difficult. Australia is a strong team but they played very dirty. I don't understand why the referees didn't stop it. We were fighting instead of playing." Ekaterina Lisunova (RUS) also offered her perspective: "I don't think we were ready for this game and we didn't take (advantage) of the chances we had. It was quite a rough match and the referees did not call enough fouls."

Australian head coach Greg McFadden responded to opponent's claims about Australia's tough playing style: "We play water polo, the referees do their job. We got penalised a bit more today so we have to look at a few little things. But things are just working so we won't change them too much. China (the team Australia will face in the quarterfinals) is a very strong team. Unfortunately, or fortunately, they didn't play that well so far. I hope they continue that way. It's going to be a tough came. We know each other as we trained together a lot of times."  

Looking forward to their next series Australian player Sophie Smith (AUS) said: "Whoever we come up against we've got to win. We've finished at the top of the group which is what we wanted. It (today's match) wasn't the prettiest game we've played. There are always things to work on." Her teammate Alicia McCormack (AUS) was enthusiastic about the team's future: "We have a lot of momentum now and we are where we wanted to be at this stage, so very are very happy. We were confident from our first two matches. You can't be over-confident because everyone here is in the hunt for the gold medal. But we are quietly confident."


Italy collects first victory over Great Britain and will face USA in next match

Italy gained their first win in the women's Olympic water polo preliminary round and captured the third spot in the Group B match after beating Great Britain 9-5. The victory sets Italy up for a quarterfinal against USA, the reigning FINA World Cup and World League Champions, on Sunday.

Britain, without a win in three games, automatically goes into the quarterfinals of the eight-team completion. They will face Group A champion Spain in their match on Sunday. Teresa Frassinetti (ITA) scored consecutive goals at centre-forward but Britain's main target was Italy captain Elisa Casanova (ITA) who was nullified by the choking defence. Britain struggled in setting up their attacks close to goal and relied on long shots, only one of which struck home.

Athens 2004 Olympic champion Tania Di Mario (ITA) scored three goals for Italy, including their first two. Guilia Emmolo (ITA) was deadly down the right win with another three goals. Britain's best was Ciara Gibson-Byrne (GBR) with two goals, one from seven metres. Both teams were solid on extra man defence. Italy scored on two of seven extra man attack plays while Great Britain scored on only one of their six.

Great Britain's head coach Szilveszter Fekete (HUN) offered his assessment of today's match: "To be honest we are not broken. We wanted to play a great match in front of our supporters, but losing to the European champions should not be regarded as a tragedy, and after this loss now we can meet Spain in the quarters. We always play close matches with them. We had tight ones in the European qualifications, in the world league prelims, and the last time we met in Barcelona we lost 9-7 with Spanish referees on the poolside."

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credit: Giorgio Scala 

GB player Robyn Nicholls tried to be positive about their three preliminary losses: "It was not our goal to finish last in the group, but on the upside, it does mean we play Spain next. We only lost narrowly to them in a recent match and we can do well against them. We do not want to play aggressive water polo. It is a game of skill and we are not interested in getting into a brawl." GB teammate Chloe Wilcox (GBR) talked about playing against Italy's captain Elisa Casanova (ITA): "It's physically tough. She is bigger and stronger than me, but I have other advantages. I'm a faster swimmer so I can get her tired out, but she's a great player and it's tough. Other teams are no longer coming into the match feeling that they have a guaranteed win anymore. In training the Australians didn't want us poolside. I think they are a little bit scared of us now."

Italian head coach Fabio Conti (ITA) moderated his enthusiasm in his post-game assessment: "There are many smiles, but this is not that important, because our Olympic Games start in two days with the quarterfinals. This was a good game for us, but the GB team is not at our level, although they have progresses so much. We will face the USA who are a very strong team. History has shown that anything can happen in one game."

Italian player Giulia Emmolo (ITA) shared thoughts on today's victory: "It wasn't an easy match, we know we would be up against it with the home crowd. It's going to be a big challenge (facing the USA). We need to prepare mentally and physically, but our coach has trained us properly." Italian teammate Teresa Frassinetti (ITA) put today's win in perspective and explained her black eye: "To be honest, it wasn't the most important game for us. We know that GB would raise their game in front of the home crowd. It was from the match with Russian earlier in the week, they play hard. It depends on the referees, but they have been allowing a lot of physical play, but that can vary from game to game."


USA overhauls China for second victory 

The USA Women's Water Polo Team completed group play undefeated with a 7-6 win over China. Rallying from a two goal deficit in the second period, the USA team used a five goal run that spanned the late second, third, and early fourth period to claim a lead they would never relinquish. Maggie Steffens (USA) scored a game high three goals and Betsey Armstrong (USA) posted six saves in net. Steffens remains the leading scorer of the tournament with 11 goals. The USA moves on to meet Italy in the quarterfinals on Sunday, August 5. 

The USA got off to a slow start in the win over China, with the Chinese taking a 1-0 lead three minutes into the period. Neither team would score after that as both sides struggled to find the cage. It wasn't until three minutes into the second period that Team USA would get on the board. Kelly Rulon (USA) converted a penalty shot to make it a 1-1 match. China answered with a power play goal on the following possession and then added a penalty shot to take a 3-1 lead with 3:31 left. Steffens scored her first of the night, on a power play, to bring the match to 3-2 in favour of China with 2:07 left in the first half.

That was the score coming out of intermission and the United States dominated the third quarter. The USA kept China off the board and stacked up three goals of their own, turning a one goal deficit into a 5-3 lead by the end of the period. Steffens opened it up with a skip shot, cross cage to beat the keeper. That was followed by Annika Dries (USA) wheeling inside for a score, and then it was back to Steffens for a goal from distance to give the United States the two goal cushion.

Brenda Villa (USA) capped the five goal run on the first possession of the fourth with a shot from outside, putting Team USA in front 6-3. China began to chip away hitting a shot from outside, then one from inside, reducing their deficit to one at 6-5 in favour of the Americans. Less than a minute later, at the 3:57 mark, the USA struck on a power play as Elsie Windes (USA) put one right over the goalie's head for a 7-5 lead. Excellent team defence came back to bite the United States moments later when a shot that was field blocked dropped right at the two metre line, resulting in an easy score for Sun Huizi. 

Leading 7-6, the United States was able to keep the Chinese off the board the rest of the way with Armstrong halting a last second, full-tank heave at the horn to preserve the victory. Ma Huanhuan (CHN) and Sun Yating (CHN) led the Chinese attack with two goals each. The USA went 2/5 on power plays and 1-1 on penalties while China was 3/8 on power plays and 1/1 on penalties. 

The USA and Italy (their opponent in the quarterfinals on Sunday) have met five times this year, with four victories for the United States. The first was on February 15 in Los Alamitos, California, a 17-10 win for the USA. The last meeting was at the FINA World League Super Final on June 1, a 15-2 win against an Italian team containing many younger National Team players. The USA also took two victories and a tie in exhibitions with the Italian National Team on a training trip to Italy this past March. This will be the first time the USA Women have ever played in an Olympic quarterfinal round. 

USA head coach Adam Krikorian (USA) spoke about motivating the US players knowing Spain had won the group: "No, it wasn't. We talked before the game about the need to get better and after (the draw with) Spain (in our last match), I think we played better. We messed up a lot in the beginning of the match and missed many opportunities, but it is important that we found some momentum and we became much better offensively in the second half."

USA player Brenda Villa (USA) spoke following the game: "We have worked hard on our defence, and defence wins games. We always want to win and we're now going to get ready for the quarterfinals. We still need to improve if we want to finish on the podium. As for our rivals, Spain is pretty hot right now. We are confident, but we need to play well."

Teammate Annika Dries (USA) on finishing second in the group and if it explained the slow start: "We are playing every game as if it's our last to get through the tournament. But even though our attack was slow, I think our defence was good." Dries was asked to comment on Maggie Steffens (USA): "She's been capitalizing on the opportunities she's been given, but from previous tournaments we know anyone can score on any day. We have a lot of options, so we aren't worried." Jessica Steffens (USA) when asked about her sister Maggie's contributions and about their next match: "Maggie is a really special player and a special person. She has always wanted to be right in there playing alongside us and now she is. She's performing phenomenally. (Our team is) feeling confident, but we're not quite at the point we want to be at yet, but you don't want to go out playing your best just yet."

Chinese head coach Juan Jane (ESP) on tempering expectations at the Olympic tournament:"In my modest opinion, on the first day we played badly against Spain, the match with Hungary was better, and today we improved further. I am happy with my team as we could play a close match with the USA, who are among the top two teams in the world. After the silver medal in the FINA World Championships last year, everyone asks whether we can win the gold medal here. Too much pressure. I try to cool down everyone. Our team is just one in the field, we have others who go for the title and only one can win." Coach Jane previously led the Spanish men to an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and was asked about the difference between coaching men and women water polo players: "The women are too excited, they sometimes make decisions too quickly and that is not good for the team. I ask them 10,000 times a day to take their time, think, check the shot clock, check the opponent's position. I hope they will play against Australia (in the quarters) more with their minds than their hearts. It is the only way to win."

Chinese players Yang Jun (CHN) on today's match: "Overall we did very well. It was close today. We must try our best to prepare and play each match well. We will be ready." Her teammate Ma Huanhuan (CHN) was asked about their 3-0 run in the opening quarter of the game: "At first we did well in defence, but later our energy waned and we moved less quickly. We still have room to improve with our shooting as many shots didn't make it into the back of the net, so there is room to improve. We have to try our best to win because the US is a strong team and we have never beaten them. We had to perform our best and give it 100%. Of course I am disappointed but this is not the end and the next game is the key one. That will make the difference. Now we just need to adjust our mental state and prepare well for the next game."


SUNDAY, AUGUST 5 - QUARTERFINAL ROUND

United States vs Italy

Hungary vs Russia

Spain vs Great Britain

Chine vs Australia