Super Final 2013 (Women): Olympic champion USA loses in penalty shootout to host China

World League

BEIJING, China (June 1) - Olympic champion United States of America suffered a dramatic, sudden-death, penalty-shootout loss to host China on the opening day of the FINA Women’s Water Polo World League Super Final at the Water Cube in Beijing. Featuring new players and some new coaches, the Super Final is an excellent chance for athletes to cement their positions ahead of the FINA World Championships in Barcelona next month.

The 3000-strong crowd in the revamped Water Cube main auditorium was treated to some spectacular water polo as the Chinese team went three goals up against the USA, only to see the multiple World League champion level the game at 9-9 by the end of the third quarter and then 10-10 just before full time to force the shootout.

Each team missed a shot in the rotational round of five and China converted the first of the sudden-death attempts while the USA shot was blocked, giving China its historic first victory over USA in women’s water polo. In the same group, Hungary outlasted a late-charging Russia 11-10 in what was an earlier nerve-tingler.

Group B provided two different types of games with 2012 London Olympic silver medallist Spain overcoming 2004 Olympic champion Italy 9-8 in the day’s opener. The final match of the evening was a comprehensive 12-8 victory for Olympic bronze medallist Australia over Canada, who fought hard in the second quarter, but struggled to keep up with the Aussie Stingers.

In day-two Group A action, USA will play Russia and China will look to back up against Hungary in the clash of the first-day winners. Group B leaders Spain and Australia clash, while Canada and Italy are looking for first points.

Match Reports:

Match 1: 15:00, Group B, SPAIN 9 ITALY 8
Quarters: 2-1, 2-2, 1-3, 4-2
Extra Man: ESP: 2/4. ITA: 5/9
Pens: ESP: 1/1. ITA: 1/1

SPAIN: Laura ESTER, Marta BACH, Anna ESPAR (2), Roser TARRAGO (1), Matilda ORTIZ, Jennifer PAREJA (1), Lorena MIRANDA (1), Pilar PENA (1), Andrea BLAS, One MESEGUER, Carmen GARCIA (1), Laura LOPEZ (2), Patricia HERRERA. Head Coach: Miguel OCA.
ITALY: Elena GIGLI, Francesca POMERI, Arianna GARIBOTTI (2), Federica RADICCHI, Elisa QUEIROLO, Rosaria AIELLO, Tania DI MARIO (2), Roberta BIANCONI (3), Giulia EMMOLO, Valeria PALMIERI (1), Aleksandra COTTI, Teresa FRASSINETTI, Giulia GORLERO. Head Coach: Fabio CONTI.

Spain was the faster-starting team with two goals inside the opening four minutes. The game then switched Italy’s way to go 3-2 ahead, only for Spain to wrest the halftime lead at 4-3. The match swung this way and that for the rest of the match until Spain took a two-goal winning lead into the final 90 seconds.

Lorena MIRANDA and Anna ESPAR saw Spain comfortably 2-0 ahead with the first coming on extra-man attack. Spain looked dangerous on attack while Italy struggled to get the ball cleanly to the centre forwards. Roberta BIANCONI netted on extra at 3:57 in the first and then 2004 Olympic gold medallist Tania DI MARIO, the captain in Beijing this week, converted a penalty shot. Arianna GARIBOTTI was left untouched on the deep left and made the most of the moment for a 3-2 lead. Halfway through the period. Spanish captain Jennifer PAREJA converted a penalty to level the game before Roser TARRAGO sent in an outside shot from the top at the end of possession time for 4-3 with 49 seconds left on the clock.

DI MARIO opened the second-half scoring with a deft shot from the top into the top left for 4-4, but when trying it again two attacks later, her defender broke off, received a long pass from goalkeeper Laura ESTER and countered for the 5-4 goal. Teresa FRASSINETTI used her exceptional centre-forward skills to gain an ejection and Italy called a timeout, but the attack failed to earn a shot. BIANCONI, however, made sure on the next attack Italian attack for 5-5 and the fourth draw of the match. Italy took the lead for the second time when Valeria PALMIERI accepted a short cross pass from DI MARIO on extra at 1:42, for what was the last score of the period.

Spain earned its second draw through Pilar PENA just after the exclusion period from deep right early in the fourth quarter, but BIANCONI blasted in her third from deep left on extra on the next attack for a third lead. Spain scored through its seventh different player when Carmen GARCIA accepted a final-second pass on possession at two metres and sent in a backhand shot for 7-7. Laura LOPEZ scored from six metres to have Spain 8-7 up at 4:13 for the fourth change of the lead. At 2:01 and with Spain on full press, Fabio CONTI called his second timeout. The pass looked good to centre forward, the player turned, but no call. ESPAR converted a chance from deep right on the next attack for 9-7 at 1:24. Italy tried hard and twice on attack looked good for penalty attempts but one was denied and the second gained just an exclusion, which GARIBOTTI converted nine seconds from time for a 9-8 Spanish win.

Spain vs Italy


Miguel OCA (ESP) — Head Coach
“We are satisfied with the victory over Italy, which is a big team. We played very well with a lot of order. We did good for the first game.”

Jennifer PAREJA (ESP) — Captain
“The first game was important to feel the sensation of the competition. Italy is a very strong team. For sure, it is on top with strong centres, a strong goalkeeper and good defenders. When we were behind we some of our shots were not OK, but we played the same way. This is the only way possible to win.”

Fabio CONTI (ITA) — Head Coach
“I think it was a good game to start a new tournament with a different team of young players for the first tournament. It is not easy playing Spain, the silver medallist from the London Olympics. It was not good, but it was OK.”

Aleksandra COTTI — Athlete
“I feel we were not strong for three quarters of the game. We are sure we must work harder during this period before Barcelona. We are close to Italy. The best part of our game was the defence. It was good that Spain could not shoot easily at times.”


Match 2: 16:20, Group A, HUNGARY 11 RUSSIA 10
Quarters: 3-2, 4-2, 2-3, 2-3
Referees: Jaume TEIXIDO (ESP), Massimo SAVARESE (ITA)
Extra Man: HUN: 3/4. RUS: 1/8
Pens: HUN: 1/2.

HUNGARY: Orsolya KASO, Anna ILLES, Dora ANTAL (2), Ibolya MISKOLCZI (1), Gabriella SZUCS (2), Orsolya TAKACS, Brigitta HORVATH (1), Rita KESZTHELYI (1), Ildiko TOTH (1), Barbara BUJKA (2), Krisztina GARDA, Kata MENCZINGER (1), Edina GANGL. Head Coach: Andras MERESZ.
RUSSIA: Anna KARNAUKH, Diana ANTONOVA, Ekaterina PROKOFYEVA (3), Elvina KARIMOVA (1), Alexandra ANTONOVA (3), Olga BELOVA (1), Ekaterina LISUNOVA (2), Anna GRINEVA, Anna TIMOFEEVA, Olga BELIAEVA, Evgeniya IVANOVA, Ksenia KRIMER, Anna USTYUKHINA. Head Coach: Mikhail NAKORYAKOV.

Hungary looked the better team with the stronger tactics and the more precise execution in the early stages and when 6-2 up it looked a certain victory. Who would have guessed that Russia would be strong enough to come back and nearly force the penalty shootout? Russia levelled the game at 1, 2 and 10.

It took a while for Hungary to gain the advantage, but four successive goals straddling the first break took Hungary 6-2 ahead. Two came from right-hand catch, one just after the exclusion period and another on extra. The opening goals came via two for Barbara BUJKE (HUN) and two to Alexandra ANTONOVA (RUS). Dora ANTAL struck 25 seconds from the buzzer to give Hungary the lead it never relinquished.

Ekaterina PROKOFYEVA, who was the 2009 FINA World Youth Championships MVP, struck home with identical shots late in the second quarter, with the first from 10m and the second from 8m. Ildiko TOTH was excellent at centre forward, scoring with a backhand shot eight seconds from halftime and 7-4 up.

Ekaterina LISUNOVA opened the third period for 7-5, but Rita KESZTHELYI with a beautiful goal on a cross pass at two metres, and Gabriella SZUCS making up for her first-quarter penalty miss, converting an incredible shot from two metres inside her half. At 9-5, the game looked over. However, PROKOFYEVA responded on the next attack from close in and LISUNOVA grabbed her second after a timeout and on extra for 9-7 to close out the third period, which it won 3-2.

Russia drew to within one when Alexandra ANTONOVA converted extra on the first attack of the fourth quarter from deep right. However, ANTAL scored her second from the penalty line when TOTH drew a penalty foul on Elvina KARIMOVA. Not a minute had passed and the score had changed to 10-8.

Olga BELOVA gave Russia a hint of a chance when she scored on extra from the top for 10-9 at 3:59. The unthinkable happened when KARIMOVA scored from a long, scything pass on the angle to the deep right-hand-catch position and score on the acute angle for 10-10, lifting the roof with the 3000-strong crowd. Hungary had the control and desire to win a game it owned and, at the end of possession time, SZUCS decided the only option was to shoot from 8m and it went in with 48 seconds remaining — 11-10 was the winning score.

Hungary vs Russia


Andras MERESZ (HUN) — Head Coach
“It was a very difficult first game since the qualification rounds. The Hungarian team is very tired with such a long trip, jet-lag and every day we are doing one and a half hours training, plus gym work and swimming. We have very important competition coming up in the World Championships. We were very happy (with the win). I know the Russian team would come back (when 6-2 ahead) under new coach Mikhail (NAKORYAKOV). But, my team never gave up.”

Orsolya TAKACS (HUN) — Captain
“We played very well and we wanted to do our best in the World League and the World Championships. We have been training hard. We are very happy with the win because we started well but in the second two quarters we were not so good. At last, we won and against Russia is not easy. After the Olympic Games we wanted to do well and this we have today.”

Match 4: 17:40, Group A, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 15 CHINA 16 in sudden-death penalty shootout (FT: 11-11. Pens: 4-5)
Quarters: 3-5, 2-2, 4-2, 2-2. Pens: 4-5
Referees: Maro SAVINOVIC (CRO), Andrew CARNEY (AUS)
Extra Man: USA: 3/6. CHN: 6/9
Pens (shootout only): USA: 4/6. CHN: 5/6

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Elizabeth ARMSTRONG, Lauren SILVER (2), Melissa SEIDEMANN (3), Danielle WARDE, Caroline CLARK, Margaret STEFFENS (3), Courtney MATHEWSON (1), Kiley NEUSHAL (2), Jillian KRAUS, Kelly RULON (1), Annika DRIES (2), Kameryn CRAIG (1), Tumuaialii ANAE. Head Coach: Adam KRIKORIAN.
CHINA: YANG Jun, TENG Fei (2), LIU Ping (1), SUN Yujun (3), HE Jin (3), SUN Yating (2), SONG Donglun, ZHU Yajing, MEI Xiaohan, MA Huanhuan (2), ZHANG Cong, ZHANG Lei (3), WANG Ying. Head Coach: Alexander KLEYMENOV.

China created a large slice of history by beating Olympic champion USA in a penalty shootout after holding sway for much of the match. China led 9-6 in the third quarter before USA levelled at 9-9 going into the final break.

Before the match, China knew the task ahead would be tough, never having beaten the USA. The huge crowd was vociferous whenever their team touched the ball and especially when the quarter-time score hit 5-3. A three-goal unanswered spell in the middle of the period gave new Chinese coach and former Russian mentor Alexander KLEYMENOV yelling in hoarse Chinese, a language he has mastered since arriving in his new home.

The margin slipped to 6-3 when ZHANG netted her third from the deep left on extra. Annika DRIES proved why she is so good at centre forward with two goals in just over a minute to narrow the margin to 6-5. SUN Yujun scored from the top on extra with 11 seconds left in the half for 7-5.

SUN Yating made it 8-5 with a centre-forward backhander early in the third. Melissa SEIDEMANN, one of seven Olympic gold medallists returning this year, netted her second from outside on extra. However, HE Jin stretched the margin to 9-6. Maggie STEFFENS, the standout player at the 2012 London Olympic Games, scored her second; SEIDEMANN converted the next attack on extra and Kami CRAIG turned effortlessly at centre forward to level the game at 9-9, 15 seconds from the final break.

China went back into the lead through SUN Yating on extra at the top of the fourth, only for Lauren SILVER to equalise a half-minute later. Both teams went to a timeout for no score and China called a second 59 seconds from time. The ball moved all around the arc several times before MA Huahuan sent in the shot that lifted the roof. Tumuaialii ANAE, who played the whole game in goal, let it slip over the line. USA was still not out of the picture, working hard on attack and Kelly NEUSHAL picked up the rubbish and scored from deep right with just nine seconds left on the clock, forcing the shootout.

No one left the pool as China shot first with three successes against incoming Olympic gold medallist Betsy ARMSTRONG. RULON netted for the USA but MATHEWSON had her effort blocked. NEUSHAL netted and SONG Donglun hit the post. SILVER and MA swapped goals, leaving STEFFENS to convert off the post for 15-15 after the rotation. Sudden death ensued with TENG Fei scoring, but RULON had her shot blocked to give China the win.

USA vs China


Alexander KLEYMENOV (RUS) — China Head Coach
“It was the first time in history that China has beaten the USA, Now they have many new players but it was really important for China to win. I need animation from my team and the players who did not play well in London (Olympic Games) played well tonight.”

Adam KRIKORIAN (USA) — Head Coach
“It was a good game and the Chinese played with a lot of energy. They had more energy and intensity than we did. I’m proud that we managed to battle back and force the penalty shootout. We want to get better as the tournament goes on.”

Match 3: 19:00, Group B, CANADA 8 AUSTRALIA 12

Quarters: 1-3, 3-4, 2-4, 2-1
Referees: Balasz FEKETE (HUN), Alexey KRAPIVIN (RUS)
Extra Man: CAN: 2/8. AUS: 4/7
Pens: CAN: 0/2. AUS: 1/1

CANADA: Michele RELTON, Krystina ALOGBO, Katrina MONTON (1), Emma WRIGHT, Monika EGGENS, Joelle BEKHAZI (1), Sophie BARON LA SALLE (2), Dominique PERRAULT (1), Carmen EGGENS (1), Christine ROBINSON, Stephanie VALIN, Marina RADU (2), Nicola COLTERJOHN. Head Coach: Guy BAKER.
AUSTRALIA: Lea BARTA, Jayde APPEL, Hannah BUCKLING (2), Holly LINCOLN-SMITH, Isobel BISHOP (1), Bronwen KNOX, Rowena WEBSTER, Glencora RALPH (2), Zoe ARANCINI, Ashleigh SOUTHERN (2), Keesja GOFERS (1), Nicola ZAGAME (2), Kelsey WAKEFIELD. Head Coach: Greg McFADDEN.

Australia made its intention clear with a 3-1 opening quarter that went to a 7-4 halftime margin. In that half, Aussie Stingers goalkeeper Kelsey WAKEFIELD, celebrating her 22nd birthday today, stopped two penalty shots while Ashleigh SOUTHERN scored one for Australia in the last second of the half. The game continued Australia’s way but Canada fought hard and took every opportunity available.

Hannah BUCKLING scored Australia’s opening pair, either side of Dominique PERRAULT (CAN). SOUTHERN was the beneficiary of a cross pass on counter for 3-1 and WAKEFIELD stopped an Emma WRIGHT penalty attempt.

Nicola ZAGAME, one of six returning bronze medallists from London, scored a slider on extra to start the second quarter. Joelle BEKHAZI had her penalty attempt blocked by WAKEFIELD. Isobel BISHOP and Glencora RALPH took the lead to 6-1 before three Canadian goals had the match at 6-4. Marina RADU from outside, Carmen EGGENS on counter and Sophie BARON LA SALLE with a bouncer from the top made Australia step up. SOUTHERN scored her penalty and halftime was 7-4.

RALPH scored two at the start of the third, one from the top and the other on counter. Keesja GOFERS and RADU swapped outside shots, then ZAGAME on extra and BARON LA SALLE from the right made it 11-6 at the final break. Australia took a late timeout to no avail.

Rowie WEBSTER scored on counter, electing to shot with a bouncer from the top instead of going in close, to give the Stingers a 12-6 advantage at the start of the fourth. The game seized up as defence was king (or queen). Both teams took a timeout with Katrina MONTON converting off the third pass on Canada’s play at 2:58. WAKEFIELD stopped two excellent Canadian shots inside the final minute, laying down the gauntlet for the other teams.


Greg McFADDEN (AUS) — Head Coach
 “We had good moments but then gradually let them back into the game. We’d get out to a 4-5-goal lead and lapses in concentration let us down. It was hard today as we have not had many hard games lately so that was a good hit-out.”

Kelsey WAKEFIELD (AUS) — Goalkeeper having 22nd birthday
“I like the pressure of penalty goals. It is just one on one (she said of the two penalty saves). It’s good to start with a win but there are still things we have to work on. Our communication broke down and goals slipped in so we will have to work on that.”

Guy BAKER (USA) — Canada Head Coach
“We went 0-2 on penalties and 0-3 on power plays (six on five) in the first half. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that we scored on that. Australia did a really nice job. They went 3/4 on power plays and that was the difference and we never caught up. At 6-4 we looked good but gave up a late goal. We were always playing uphill.”

Christine ROBINSON (CAN) — 10-year veteran on the national team
“I think we had a lot of good opportunities, but we couldn’t seem to finish them. It was a rough opening game, but we’ll get better. We showed a lot of character when we scored three straight (in the second quarter), but we couldn’t keep it up. It was not our night tonight but we will get better. Today was just one game.”