Reigning champion United States of America beat Japan 25-4 in Group B and in Group A, Australia held off Canada 8-5 in the first session of women’s water polo matches. Competing in different groups, the matches were quite different, but the standard of play was exceptional considering the high stage that they were playing on during the Covid-19 pandemic.
United States of America began its campaign for three consecutive gold medals with what proved to be an easy 25-4 victory over Japan.
Captain Maggie Steffens, the Most Valuable Player at the last two Olympic Games, starred with six goals, including three in the first period as USA allowed Japan to a 3-3 scoreline before hitting the afterburners and grasping the quarter-time lead at 8-3.
“There were lots and lots of nerves. I didn’t know what to expect. The game became more regular and more of a flow. We have a lot of good shooters and I need to be ready to finish or be open.”
From that 3-3 scoreline, Japan failed to breach the USA defence until its fourth goal at 5:25 in the final period. USA went 14 straight, showing its current status as the best team in the world and well capable of creating history here in Tokyo.
It was a team effort with Steffens definitely leading by example with her five goals, something emulated by first-time Olympian Stephanie Haralabidis, who enjoyed the Olympic spotlight. Maddie Musselman and Aria Fischer nailed four goals each with Fischer blasting in twice from centre forward.
Probably the only “blemish” for USA was when Kaleigh Gilchrist had her penalty attempt stopped. However, she jumped on the rebound and plastered the goal regardless. While there were mistakes on both sides, it was the opening encounter and a tough ask for the host nation.
For USA, it was another notch in the belt, extending its current winning streak to 20. The only loss in recent memory was to Australia on January 16, 2020 in Brisbane — 10-9. That loss broke a 69-match winning run.
Match 1, 13:00, Group B, JAPAN 4 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 25
Quarters: 3-8, 0-6, 1-7, 0-4
Referees: German Moller (ARG), Nicola Johnson (AUS).
Shots: JPN: 4/27. USA: 25/40.
Extra Man: JPN: 2/7. USA: 6/9.
Pens: USA: 2/3.
Adam Krikorian (USA) — Head Coach
“It’s the first game in the Olympics. Jitters are not going to go away for me or the team. We’ve got to feel for it and play with it. We get nervous like anyone else.”
Makihiro Motomiya (JPN) — Head Coach
“We prepared very well for this match. They (USA) were really good; the cream of America was there. We started very well (3-3), but then America pulled away.”
Yumi Arima (JPN) — Captain
“I feel honoured, because it is my first Olympic game, and we played it with the United States, which is the strongest in the world. I had to make more goals. Only
Miku Koide (JPN) — Two goals
“I am happy if I contribute to my team as the key attacker, and I am really happy that people from my hometown and all people watched this game.” On playing in an empty stadium: “Actually, we have played in an empty stadium in the Japan Championship since last year. Even in that sense, feeling our home ground, we could play the game well. I’m really happy that the Olympic Games was held in Japan and I could gain experience, so I’ll try my best.”
Full match statistics: www.olympics.com/tokyo-2020/en
The clash of the Commonwealth fell the way of Australia, beating Canada 8-5 in a thrilling match that had Canada continually trying to pull back the deficit.
Canada has been on the road for more than three months and Australia prepared at home without the benefit of international matches. Whether one is better than the other is debatable, but it seemed to work for Australia.
“It was the first game and it’s always exciting and (plenty of) nerves. We haven’t had an official match for quite a while so we set out there to play a tough game and see where we can improve. The team played together to the game plan, which we didn’t execute at times. We’re united as a team and that’s what we’re about.”
Canada was more match fit and pressured the Aussie Stingers most of the match, stopping extra-man attacks with tight defence and several times not allowing Australia the benefit of a shot. Head coach David Paradelo was happy with some of the advantages his team gained against Australia.
It was a big-time match for Canada with skipper Monika Eggens playing her 500th international, scoring three goals; Kyra Christmas playing her 100th and Joelle Bekhazi her 575th.
Both goalkeepers were exceptional, rising high with two arms outstretched, dragging down frequent balls — Lea Yanitsas (AUS, 13 saves) and Claire Wright (CAN, 10).
For Australia, Bronwen Knox became the fifth women’s player to contest four Olympic Games.
Australia opened early through Bronte Halligan and it took more than five minutes for Canada to equalise via Christmas. Halligan, Abby Andrews and Knox created a 4-1 buffer by 3:29 in the second period. It was Eggens who stepped up with two goals — penalty strike and shot from the top — for 4-3 behind. Zoe Arancini drove through and lobbed Wright for 5-2, 13 seconds from halftime.
The momentum Australia had, drove it to 6-3 and 7-4 by the final whistle, Halligan scoring her third from deep right. It was all pressure from both sides with Canada gaining the breakthrough via Eggens with an exquisite shot from the top at 2:38. Stingers’ captain Rowie Webster, who bounced her second-quarter penalty attempt into the crossbar, put the match beyond doubt at 1:49 with a bouncer for the winning 8-5 margin.
Match 2, 14:30, Group A, CANADA 5 AUSTRALIA 8
Quarters: 1-1, 2-4, 1-2, 1-1
Referees: Michael Goldenberg (USA), Gyorgy Kun (HUN).
Shots: CAN: 5/30. AUS: 8/29.
Extra Man: CAN: 2/6. AUS: 1/5.
Pens: CAN: 1/1. AUS: 1/2.
Rowie Webster (AUS) — Captain
“We were nervous and we’ve had no game for 17 months. It’s our first (Olympic) match and to win against a phenomenal side is a real confidence booster. We made the decision in the Covid world to prepare at home, probably the first time ever for an Australian team. We had to relive that extra year and in hindsight our preparation was ideal. I’m just glad that the Olympic Games are going ahead.”
David Paradelo (CAN) — Head Coach
“We played solid defence and our goalkeeper (Claire Wright) was outstanding and on many occasions kept us in the game. We were able to get position against Australia, which is no easy task. They are very strong. We had many options to shoot the ball, but it was just late to put into the net on occasions.”
Monika Eggens (CAN) — Captain and 500th international
“I’m definitely a little disappointed we didn’t come out as strong as we wanted. We now have an opportunity in the next game to put it away.” On her 500th international match: “Honestly, I’m always excited, whether it’s the 500th or the first. For all of us it is the first time at an Olympic Games. It’s exciting.”
Full match statistics: www.olympics.com/tokyo-2020/en