Netherlands — sixth at Tokyo 2022 — beat group winner Italy 9-7 in the first semifinal of the FINA Women’s Water Polo World League European qualifying finals at Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Spain today. Spain delighted its supporter base with a 19-18 sudden-death shootout victory over Hungary after the match was levelled at 12-12. Spain was six goals in arrears in the second quarter.
TENERIFE, SPAIN —The semifinals promised much and Netherlands opened the entertainment with a come-from-behind victory over Italy, rattling in a flurry of goals in the second half to secure a berth in Sunday’s final. In the second semifinal, Spain looked out of sorts in the first half and only turned up to play, seemingly, in the third quarter, coming back from six down to force a shootout and then surprisingly winning 19-18 in sudden death.
Greece and France will begin Sunday’s final day with the play-off for fifth (10:00), followed by Italy and Hungary for bronze (11:45) and Netherlands and Spain for the gold (13:30).
ITALY 7 NETHERLANDS 9
Netherlands turned a 2-0 deficit and 4-3 down at halftime into a glorious victory built on a 6-1 surge in the second half. The Dutch levelled the quarter-time score at two, levelled again at three and fell one behind by an Italian buzzer-beater at halftime. Italy was kept scoreless in the third quarter and finally broke the drought three minutes into the fourth, when it was too late. The Netherlands surged to 9-5 and two goals in the last 71 seconds gave Italy some dignity.
Sabrina Van der Sloot topped the Dutch scoring with three goals — a second-quarter penalty followed by the eighth and ninth Dutch goals in the middle of the final period, which assured her team of victory. Vivian Sevenich’s superb centre-forward backhand goal for 4-4 at 4:59 in the third was the impetus that the Dutch needed to go on its scoring rampage. For Italy, Claudia Marletta was the main thrust with four goals, one in each of the first two quarters and two of the last three Italian goals when three down. She drilled two from the top and converted two penalty fouls.
That Sevenich goal was the spark Netherlands needed in the third quarter after a period where both teams wasted the ball through the tight defence. Simone van de Kraats, with an eight-metre bomb; Nina ten Broek and Lola Moolhuijzen, both with incredible lobs, took the margin to three and then Van der Sloot nailed consecutive goals that had Italy on the ropes.
Stats don’t lie
Neither side covered itself in glory when it came to extra-man attack with Italy converting three from nine and Netherlands only one from seven. Both converted their one penalty.
The Netherlands played in the Olympics last year and Italy did not. The Netherlands played on Friday and Italy did not. Those two factors alone were enough for the Dutcj to swim into the final on Sunday. Italy may have won a group, but the Netherlands looked the more fearsome team in the second half, while it was tentative in the first. The Dutch look good with Budapest 2022 looming, while Italy needs to work hard on gelling the team before the year’s major assignment.
HUNGARY 18 SPAIN 19 in sudden-death penalty shootout (FT: 12-12. Pens: 6-7)
Olympic silver medallist Spain pulled off one of the great victories, coming from 8-2 down midway through the second quarter to eke out a full-time 12-12 score and then survive a sudden-death shootout to beat Olympic bronze medallist Hungary. Spain nearly paid the price for a static attack that seemed stagnant at times for much of the first half. A solid 2-0 start was quickly overshadowed by a determined Hungary who, levelled, went 4-2 up at the first break and stretched the margin to 8-2 with nearly four minutes of the half remaining. It was more like a heist, plundering goal after goal. Spain had the better of the third period, going from 8-3 down to 9-7 behind at the final break. Hungary went 10-7, Spain dragged it back to 10-9, let in a VAR decision goal and pulled two back for 11-11 by 1:24.
Hungary called a timeout and scored for the lead and then Spain had a timeout opportunity in the dying seconds, the ball going to Bea Ortiz at the left-hand-catch position for the equaliser with just 3.7 seconds remaining. Hungary had a timeout but the shot was saved and the match went to a shootout.
Both teams missed an attempt in the first round and Spain scored three straight with Hungary sending its eighth attempt into the crossbar. Hungary had the match in its hands with the final shot of the first round, only for the shot to miss and sudden death was engaged.
The undoubted star was Hungarian goalkeeper Alda Magyari whose stopping power resembled a force field for much of the match. Her team’s defence flagged a little in the second half and holes kept appearing where they were not in the first half. Kamilla Farago scored three in the four quarters and both her shots in the shootout and Krisztina Garda a pair in the match and two in the shootout.
For Spain, Bea Ortiz scored two penalties and was the go-to gal for the equaliser at the bottom of the fourth. She made sure of her two shootout attempts, as well. Judith Forca scored three from the field, one in the shootout and was not required to throw her last shot as the match had been won.
The first turning point was when Dorottya Szilagyi lit a Hungarian fire on extra that spread well into the second quarter and had Spain on the ropes at 8-2 down. The second was when Spain went 5-1 to bring the match to 9-7 in Hungary’s favour. Szilagyi could have nailed her third from the penalty line but struck the right post two minutes from the final quarter Farago lifted Hungary to 10-7 at the top of the fourth and then a 5-2 Spanish burst led to the shootout.
Stats don’t lie
Hungary was too good on extra-man attack, but Spain managed to get plenty of ejections and scored the one that mattered to draw the match. Hungary converted four from six and Spain four from 14.
Spain is always a major threat. However, Hungary, as the world’s third-best team, was not going to be intimidated and proved that with the six-goal lead. Never underestimate a Spanish team coached by Olympic champion Miki Oca. Spain was unnerved, kept pressing, started to loosen up its attack and had the firepower to level the match. The shootout is anyone’s game and the coaches sat back and tried to relax and left the scoring in the lap of the gods. The gods favoured Spain this day and Spain will play the Netherlands in the final and Hungary will face Italy for bronze.