United States of America showed why it is the best women’s water polo nation with an emphatic 14-6 victory over Italy in the first semifinal at the Alfred Hajos Swimming Pool in Budapest on Thursday afternoon. In the earlier match, pain, the perennial silver medallist to USA, beat France 18-5 in the first of the Round 5-8 semifinals.
Classification 1-4 Semifinal — Budapest
ITALY 6 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 14
Defending champion United States of America launched itself into title contention with a huge 14-6 victory over Italy. The Italians had no answer to the powerful and rock-like defence of the North Americans, as well as the excellent goalkeeping of Amanda Longan — who was given the opportunity to play the full match — coming up trumps, with a huge 16 saves. That defence meant Italy could not score for more than 13 minutes, the ice being broken by Silvia Avegno on counter-attack after a previous penalty shot by Domitilla Picozzi hit the crossbar. Goals were traded until 6-2 at halftime, stretching to 9-2 and 10-3 by the final break. There was a feast of goals in the last quarter with Italy coming alive and only losing the period 4-3. It could have been level except for Stephanie Haralabidis just managing to get her deep-right shot to cross the line, bringing up book-end goals (2 from 2 and first and last) and taking her to 18 for the tournament. USA played well all over the pool, taking all the right options, mostly, but guarding Italy out of the pool. Italy teetered at times and many shots went wide or hit the wood in an effort to avoid Longan’s reliable hands.
Longan by a long shot with her spectacular 16 saves, one of the highest statistics of Budapest 2022. The other hero was the USA defence. Take a bow.
The opening five-goal burst and a three-goal unanswered haul at the top of the third.
Stats don’t lie
USA nailed five from 10 on extra-man attack and Italy three from seven. Italy made a stunning 11 steals to none, but could not make an effective use of it.
USA, no matter how much the team changes, is still the dominant force on the planet. Italy tried hard to shut down the firepower of Maddie Musselman and Haralabidis — to excellent effect — but then others step up, just as dangerous.
What they said
Adam Krikorian (USA) — Head Coach
“We honestly do not speak about winning. Of course, I wanted it, but I’m more concerned about just like to playing the game the right way. That’s going to be a focus for the next two days and I hope we'll play our best the day after tomorrow. Win or lose, if we did a good job, the result is good for us. Our defence, especially in the first three quarters, was phenomenal today; our keeper had incredible saves, so yes, the job was well done by the ladies.”
Ashleigh Johnson (USA) — Athlete
“We are so excited right now and whoever we face in the final could be hard and tough, because both the Netherlands and Hungary are top in line, so we are looking forward to the game. Maybe from the outside it could be an easy game if we showed the result, but from the pool against Italy was much harder. For every shot, every block, every play, we worked so much.”
Carlo Silipo (ITA) — Head Coach
“It was really difficult to play against the United States. They were good at tactics and had good solutions in every situation. I think they are the best team in the world right now and the result showed this as well. We have to focus on each other. It is not necessary to predict our next opponent right now.”
Elisa Queirolo (ITA) — Athlete
“I think at the beginning we weren’t ready. They were good at attacking and we were not. We were frozen and didn’t have a clear mind to take up the gauntlet. It will be really hard to get up from that, but we will fight for the bronze medal.”
Classification 5-8 Semifinal — Budapest
FRANCE 5 SPAIN 18
Spain needed a 7-1 final quarter to beat France 18-5 after the first half was a close affair. Spain led 3-1 at the first break and then progressed to 5-1 against a resilient French team, stepping up at this tournament. Spain was still in it at 6-3 by halftime, putting plenty of pressure on the Spanish shooters. Goals were traded at the top of the third period with Bea Ortiz netting the first of her three goals — which took her tournament tally to 21 — and Aurelie Battu responding with an excellent turning shot from centre forward for 7-4. That’s when Spain stepped up and played more of its natural game, plundering 11 goals more goals to France’s one. France showed glimpses and put the ball away with some excellent shots while Spain had too much experience, power and guile around the arc. Short drives also reaped benefits for Spain with assist passing top notch.
Ortiz with her three — including the final goal from the penalty spot, spearing a line above the goalkeeper’s head; Elena Ruiz with another three, including a six-metre shot; and Judith Forca’s ability to make goals with another three for 20 in Hungary. Paula Camus, with just two goals before the match, sent in two well-guarded consecutive shots from two metres on the left-post position.
From 1-0 behind to 5-1 ahead, Spain started to turn it on and again, when Ortiz scored a pair either side of Battu’s brilliance, it was the code for action and a searing burst equal to the sizzling outdoor temperature on Margaret Island.
Stats don’t lie
Spain converted four from seven on extra-man attack and France none from five. Spain’s ability to steam the ball is legendary and 15 today was better than France’s five.
Spain was the No 2 team in the world for five years, so having to play in this division hurts and it showed today with the exacting manner in which it faced victory.
What they said
Miguel Oca (ESP) — Head Coach
“It was important to get up after the loss from the US. We need to keep on fighting in this competition. We have one more game to take the fifth position — that was our goal today — to have a chance to complete our personal plans. After all, I could say I am satisfied today.”
Martina Terre (ESP) — Athlete
“Our defence was good today, but we need to break away harder because our next opponent will be good as well, so we need good senses. France played well today, but we were better. It doesn’t matter which team is waiting for us next, we will play hard.”
Emilien Bugeaud (FRA) — Head Coach
“History repeated itself. We had a good first half; I saw some good things, but after that our pace was not so good. We have to face the reality now. I am satisfied with the first half, but right now, unfortunately, the game consists of four quarters and we have to improve in playing well all parts of the game. We have one more game; we need to put ourselves together and do a better job.”
Anne Collas (FRA) — Goalkeeper
“We all knew it was going to be a tough match and it was indeed. I am disappointed that the difference is so big; I don’t think this was necessary, but it happened and we just have to focus on the next game against Greece or Australia. I think we should work on our offence before the next game, but right now we just need a little nap, then we will see.”