Water polo (W) day 4 - Hungary seals narrow win over Russia to clinch semi-final berth

London 2012 Water Polo

Hungary survived a last second Russian rally and was able to clinch a semi-final berth with an 11-10 victory at the Water Polo arena. In the final minutes of the game Russia laid siege to Hungary's goal. Olga Beliaeva's (RUS) point blank shot was blocked before Ekaterina Lisunova's (RUS) rebound was disallowed because the siren had started to sound.Russia had raced to a 2-0 lead but surrendered their advantage early in the second quarter. Hungary went two ahead with 2:31 remaining. Russia fought back with the fourth goal of Evgenia Ivanova (RUS) which arrived from well outside and after an extra man exclusion period had expired.

Dora Antal (HUN) scored her second goal with 1:19 left on the clock before Russia earned a penalty shot, which Beliaeva converted for 11-10. Russia won the ball and took a timeout with 10 seconds left, then gained an extra man advantage with six seconds left leading to Beliaeva's unsuccessful last second shot.

It sealed a deserved win for Hungary, which had four two-goal margins in a match where neither side managed to gain an advantage in the extra-man situations. Hungary netted one from nine and Russia two from 14 chances.

Alexander Kabanov (RUS) head coach expressed his disappointment: "We lost, that's what happened. They won, so they deserved it." The coach was asked how much his players are shaken with the result: "Very, very much, but very doesn't even cover it." Russian player Olga Beliaeva explained what went wrong: "We played a lot from the (5m) second line and couldn't score a lot. In their defence, we didn't start strong enough and we left it too late in the third quarter. We can't realize right now that we lost, it's unbelievable. Hungary was very lucky today. In the final 10 seconds we thought we had a chance, we thought we could win, we were very determined."

Hungary's head coach Andras Meresz spoke with pride about his country and their national pastime:

"They are water polo players who have grown up in Hungary, home of the greatest, where even the water coming from the showers beings all the knowledge, tricks and braveness of the past. All these creep under the skin and build into your personality. This courage was the key to reach the semi-final. I asked them to start it tough, it has to be us who take a three goal lead from now. But this team is strong enough to come back from anywhere, and they did. I know, later in the game my father and thousands in front of the TV were on the brink of a heart attack, but that's part of the business at this level. I know they (Australia) wanted to surprise us, so I thought we have to risk something even more surprising. We practiced this format in the past and we always conceded a goal. But all the knowledge we gained during these situations helped us to service this. My sweet country is Hungary. I am so happy for the girls. I hope we do not stop because in 48 hours we play again for Olympic medals."

Hungarian player Dora Antal (HUN) discussed today's match: "We are very happy, it is an amazing feeling. It was tough but luckily we scored the last goal and we won. It's a good feeling but it's a team effort. We want the gold medal and we can reach it. We have to improve our game and concentrate more." 


Australia advances following penalty shootout victory over China

Australia's most celebrated player Mel Rippon led her team into the women's semi-finals with a 20-18 penalty-shootout victory over China in the second quarterfinal match today. The game was tied at 14-14 at the end of regulation time. Three Australians and one Chinese had already fouled out of the match. The score was even, 16-16 after two periods of extra time.

It came down to former captain and triple Olympian Rippon (AUS) to nail the game winner. She was the fifth shooter in the normal rotation and delivered the fourth consecutive goal for Australia. China missed their third and fourth shots. Rowie Webster (AUS) missed the first Australian attempt. The scenes of jubilation were everywhere except at China's end of the pool. While the Australian players were dancing and leaping into the pool, some Chinese players were crying after one of the most exciting games in women's Olympic water polo history.

World No. 2 China was winless coming into the quarterfinals, but turned up with their best game against the unbeaten Australians. The match was tied at 5-5 and 8-8 at the quarter breaks while China stepped up in the third, leading 12-10. Australia levelled at 13-13 just 1:28 from full time. China took the lead through Teng Fei (CHN) and Holly Lincoln-Smith (AUS) replied with an unexpected backhand goal from a five-metre foul to send the game into extra time.

Australia won the first three-minute period 2-1. Sun Huizi (CHN), one of the standout performers, levelled when totally free in front of goal 25 seconds from time. In the shootout, Webster's (AUS) shot was saved by Chinese goalkeeper Yang Jun (CHN), while Sun Yating (CHN) had hers blocked by Alicia McCormack. Gao Ao (CHN) struck the left upright. Australia were hampered by the foul count, but still managed to convert two from seven on extra-man attack with China scoring four from 16 chances. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics Australia won bronze defeating Hungary, also in a penalty shootout.

China's head coach Juan Jane (ESP) explained where they lost the match: "We had a strong chance in the last quarter, but the players were unable to pay full attention in the most important moment, especially in the end with the back-handed shot (which was the equalizer for Australia). But this is sport, this is life, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I think the players' mentality was OK, but probably they forgot that Australia is a strong team and they can play a lot better which they did. The penalties are all about luck. We made the set-ups, created the opportunities, but opted for the wrong solution. Our passes were bad in the key moments."

Chinese player Yang Jun (CHN) shared her comments: "All the players played really well, but maybe I missed some. I'm very sorry to disappoint everyone." Her teammate Ma Huanhuan (CHN) said: "We played with spirit, it was very hard and it was just bad luck that we lost. Australia are the old enemy." Another teammate Sun Yating (CHN) was succinct: "We played as our coach told us to, with spirit and determination."

Head coach Greg McFadden (AUS) full of enthusiasm after the match: "What a game. Fantastic effort from the girls. In the second half we were just defending, defending, defending. For the penalties, I had to change the line-up because four of our best penalty takers were excluded. You need to have a lot of guts to step up and to take penalties. They (the Chinese team) are full-time professionals, they've trained two to three times every day for so many years, yet we still won it. That shows the courage of the girls."

Holly Lincoln-Smith (AUS) scored the goal that made it 14-14 and took the match into overtime: "I just did what I had to do at that moment. I didn't think too much about it afterwards, I just kept calm and focused. I felt confident. I'm a pretty outgoing person, I like being the centre of all the attention in there, but at that moment it was just about me, the ball and the goalie." Mel Rippon (AUS) spoke about what the win means to the team: "It keeps our Olympic dream alive, as the quarters can end your dream, or put you through for a possible medal and luckily we did it." Rippon was thrilled that goalkeeper Alicia McCormack (AUS) saved a penalty in the shoot-out: "She's been playing so well and you never expect a goalie to save a penalty in the shoot-out, but we had faith in her to step up and she did."


USA earns berth in semi-final round after beating Italy, next stop is Australia

United States' dream of a fourth women's Olympic medal, but more especially a first gold, is intact after defeating Italy 9-6 in the third quarterfinal at the Water Polo Arena on Sunday. A tantalizing semi-final with Australia has been booked for Tuesday in what is seen as a battle between the best two teams in the world.

While Australia needed a penalty shootout to win over China, USA had to recover from a two-goal deficit in the first quarter. The USA dug themselves out of that hole and was able coast to victory over Italy, the Athens 2004 champions. Italy has two players from that gold-medal team at London 2012. Tania Di Mario (ITA) did her best with three goals. Italian goalkeeper Elena Gigli (ITA) was tormented by the USA attack, making nine saves compared to Betsy Armstrong (USA) who was in the goal for the United States, stopping 13.  

The USA never panicked when two down. They rallied from a 3-1 first quarter deficit, with a 5-0 run, grabbing a lead they would never relinquish. The USA had a handsome 6-3 lead at halftime but were kept scoreless in the third as Di Mario (ITA) converted a penalty. Kelly Rulon (USA) and captain Brenda Villa (USA), with her second, each scored on extra-man attack for 8-4 with six minutes remaining and the result was almost beyond doubt. Di Mario (ITA) netted her third but when Melissa Seidemann (USA) made it 9-5, Italian head coach Fabio Conti (ITA) saw red and threw his water bottle. Red was the colour of the referee's red card and Conti was sent from the pool deck. Following his ejection from the pool deck neither team would score a goal for the next five minutes. With the match in hand Italy tacked on one final score by Aleksandra Cotti (ITA) with just ten seconds to play but the outcome had been decided. The United States came away winners 9-6. A telling statistic of the game is revealed in the man-up plays: USA converted six from 11 while Italy only one from nine.

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credit: Giorgio Scala 

The USA has met Australia in every Olympic Games to involve women's water polo. The two met in the Gold Medal final of the 2000 Olympic Games, a win by Australia. That was followed by a meeting in the Bronze Medal match of the 2004 Olympic Games, a win by Team USA. Lastly they met in the semi-finals of the 2008 Olympic Games, also a win by Team USA. 

USA head coach Adam Krikorian (USA) downplayed his team's effort: "None of these games are easy. It wasn't until the last 10 seconds that I knew we'd won. After a rough first minute and a half of the game we maintained our composure and it's a good sign. The biggest difference was our six on five and five on six, we scored six from 11, and we held them one from nine. That was something we struggled with in the previous games. Playing like this gives us confidence. They (Australia) are the most talented team here. They are big, strong physically, swim fast, shoot well, good goalies, they don't have any weaknesses."

USA player Maggie Steffens (USA) offered her excitement over a semi-final berth: "I'm so excited, words do not begin to describe it. We have two games left in the tournament and the next game is so important. We will give it our all. Betsey (USA goalkeeper) was a wall in goal and to know you have that behind you is amazing." USA player Melissa Seidemann agreed: "It was awesome. To be perfectly honest I missed all my shots in the first game and got one goal in the second, so I had to catch up in some way. I think the staple of our team is the defence. We count on Betsey Armstrong (in the goal) so much, she did an awesome job today. Bring it on (their next match against Australia), let's go, we're ready." USA goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong (USA) spoke about her teammates and her own play: "We were great. We were tight everywhere as a team. It was a lot of fun. My defence was tight and I did really well because of them, they set it up for me." 

Italian coach Fabio Conti (ITA) who was ejected from the game offered his perspective: "I don't know, every game of water polo is different. We played total zone defending for a whole quarter and still got more exclusions than USA. I'm only disappointed with the referees. The first part of the tournament was a different story and now it is another. I don't complain about the refereeing in this game, but about the refereeing in the tournament in general. The US team were stronger than us for sure."

Italian player Tania Di Mario (ITA) spoke philosophically about the result: "We are too scared of winning, but obviously we are very disappointed. We have more personality in attack than we do in defence. We need more dignity in defence." Aniko Pelle (ITA) complemented her opponents: "USA took better advantage of their man-up situations and they were also attacking better than us. I didn't give 100%, instead 200%, but I couldn't help my team even with a single goal."


Spain averts near derailment from Great Britain but advances to face Hungary in the semis

Spain, the form team of 2012, will play Hungary in the semis after they fended off Great Britain 9-7 in the fourth quarter-final at the Water Polo Arena on Sunday.

Playing without the poolside guidance of head coach Miguel Oca (ITA), who was sitting out the game on suspension, Spain looked the most unsettled of the tournament after going 6-2 up at halftime. 

Then the brave Britons struck form, winning the second half 6-3 and going within a whisker of forcing the match into extra time. At 8-6 behind, Great Britain's Angie Winstanley-Smith (GBR) sent out a rocket backhand shot that smashed into the upright. Just over a minute later Frankie Snell (GBR) scored her third from outside on extra-player advantage that had Spain on the edge and golden hopes crumbling.

Both teams had chances before Maica Garcia (ESP) backhanded a shot in from two metres, 27 seconds from time for the 9-7 victory. Spain trailed 1-0 and 2-1 before taking a 3-2 quarter-time lead and advancing that to 6-2 at halftime and 8-5 at the final break.

Ciara Gibson-Byrne (GBR) doubled her tournament tally with two goals in the third period, although it could have been three if she had not bounced a penalty shot wide of the right post. Jennifer Pareja (ESP), Lorena Miranda (ESP) and Anni Espar (ESP) all scored twice for Spain.

Worthy Great Britain will head to the 5-8 classification semi-finals against Russia with continued vigour and determined to collect a first Olympic match win.

Great Britain's coach Szilveszter Fekete (HUN) who was reluctant to speak after the game: "I didn't want to make a comment and I don't even want to make any now. I'm too upset to say anything because I don't want to say any hurting words. Let's have just this: I wasn't surprised it was that close. We wanted to win and we could have won."

GB player Angie Winstanley-Smith (GBR) playing on her 27th birthday: "I didn't really think about it. It would have been better with a win. I came out and thought about what we had to do, not about my birthday, but I'm sure I will look back in years to come and think it was the best birthday. We did ourselves very proud and we gave it everything we had. We are a very young team. We have improved so much over the last four years and, hopefully, if we do the same again over the next four years we will be in with a chance of a medal, for sure. Four years ago we were losing to Russia by 20 goals, so we have come on so much."

Assistant coach Claudio Camerana (ESP) stood in for head coach Miguel Oca (ESP) who was suspended for this match: "We didn't play just against Great Britain, but against the crowd as well. It is our first quarterfinal and nerves and pressure were against us. I would like to congratulate the British team, they played a great game tonight. We believe in ourselves and if we play our game, we will be there (in the final)."

Maica GARCIA (ESP) offered her thoughts on the match being tougher than expected: "We knew it was going to be a tough game, they played really well, but we missed a lot of chances and hit the post a lot. I loved the atmosphere, when you have the crowd against you, it gets me going and I really enjoy it." Spanish player Laura Ester (ESP) spoke about playing against GB at their home venue: "We knew it was going to be difficult as they play at home. They came back really strongly against our goals. If someone told us two weeks ago we would play in the semi-finals we would have been so happy, now we have. Hungary (the next opponent) is a very strong, very physical team." Her teammate Pilar Pena (ESP) offered her compliments of the play from Great Britain: "We didn't know what to expect before the match. They played very well, it was a difficult match for us."


AUGUST 7 SCHEDULE OF WOMEN'S WATER POLO MATCHES:

Classification Round for 5th through 8th place:  ITA - CHN

Semi-final Round:  USA - AUS

Classification Round for 5th through 8th place:  RUS - GBR

Semi-final Round:  HUN - ESP