Croatia, Italy, Spain and USA Advance to Semis at FINA World League Super Final_

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, June 15. SHORTLY before the quarterfinal games, a touching event was held as a memorial to the most noted water polo figure in Kazakhstan, Alexander Kryukov (his son, Andriy is member of the FINA Technical Water Polo Committee and is chief organiser of this Super Final event). The legendary player and coach was a key figure of the sport in the Soviet era and also did a tremendous job after Kazakhstan had become an independent state, and was among those who fought wholeheartedly to the recognition and Olympic inclusion of women’s water polo. At the memorial banquet a short documentary was shown and after the film FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu addressed the representatives of the local sporting life and FINA Family.

In the pool, only one game offered the usual excitement: the Australians challenged the Americans towards the end of the game, but the USA proved too strong. Italy and Spain both scored a rather easy victory and will face each other in the semis. Croatia had some tough moments in the first half against the hosts, but the third period was decisive — their semi final against the USA will be a mouthwatering encounter, too.

Match reports

Game 13: 14:10, Quarter Final, USA 7 — AUSTRALIA 5
(3-1, 2-0, 0-1, 2-3)
Referees: Joaquin Fernandez Escola (ESP), Alan Balfanbayev (KAZ)
FINA Delegate: Haluk Toygarli
USA: Merryl Moses — Peter Valleras 3, Peter Hudnut, Jeff Powers 2, Adam Wright, Shea Buckner 2, Layne Beaubien, Tony Azevedo, Ryan Bailey, Tim Hutten, Jesse Smith, JW Krumpholz, John Mann. Head coach: Terry Schroeder.
AUSTRALIA: Joel Dennerley — Richard Campbell 1, Timothy Cleland 1, John Cotterill 1, Robert Maitland, Anthony Martin, Aidan Roach 1, Samuel McGregor, Thomas Whalan, Gavin Woods, Jamie Beadsworth 1, William Miller, Aaron Younger. Head coach: John Fox.

USA: 5 for 12
Australia: 2 for 8


Despite wasting a handful of extras, the US managed to prevail in the first quarter final, thanks to its effective defence. During the first half, the Americans had the edge in the 6 on 5s, Shea Buckner and Peter Vareallas were both on target, while the Aussies managed to score only once, Jamie Beadsworth also buried an extra. Buckner let a free-throw fly just in time to beat the buzzer for a 3-1 lead after the first period. A downpour hit the pool in the second but it wasn’t the rain which washed away the Aussie goals: the U.S. defence worked pretty well and denied all their rivals’ attempts. Credits to U.S. goalie Merryl Moses who came up with a fantastic save when Samuel McGregor took a shot from a one on one. It was costly for the Australians as instead of 3-2 they trailed 4-1 soon after, since Jeff Powers sent home a 6 on 5, and later he netted another one, so the U.S. led 5-1 and seemed to enjoy an easy cruise further on. But it happened the other way as the Americans failed to finish off their opponents: they missed four powerplays in the third period while John Cotterill managed to score at the other end. Adrian Roach hit one from a counter in the first minute of the last quarter for 5-3, so Peter Varellas found the back of the net from a man-up in the best moment for the Americans. But the Aussies kept coming back and scored back-to-back action goals, by Richard Campbell and Tim Cleland. It stood 6-5 and the Australians even had a chance to level. In fact, the ball hit the top-right corner, but the referee whistled a counter foul against the centre at the moment of the shot so the goal was disallowed. What made the scenario more painful that Peter Varellas scored from the distance from the following attack: his third goal sent the U.S. team to the semis as only a minute was left from the game.

Terry Schroeder (head coach, USA): “Australia gave us a tough game, they are great athletes who fight until the end. We have a really good start and we managed to hold the off. The key of the game was obviously being able to score from the 6 on 5s and stopping the 5 on 6s, and we were struggling a bit with out 6 on 5, but our defence was good so we could win the game.”

John Fox (head coach, AUS): “We are disappointed to lose this game. We were a bit nervous in the first half, committed too many defensive mistakes, easy mistakes. We started to come back in the second half, it was much better but unfortunately few things went against us.”

Layne Beaubien (USA): “Actually, the real start of the tournament was today with the knock-out games and today we’ve got the result we looked for. It’s a preparation for us to the Olympics, after a long travel and the hard trainings we are not the sharpest, this was the reason for missing too many extras today. But we are a good team, always try to find the way to win games.”

John Cotterill (AUS): “We are very disappointed. We wanted to show we had a strong game yesterday and we wanted to have another strong one today. We started badly, the second half was better, we defended better — but we lost so we are really disappointed.”

Game 14: 15:30, Quarter Final, CHINA 1 — SPAIN 11
(0-3, 0-2, 1-2, 0-4)
Referees: Roberto Cabral (CUB), Steven Rotstart (USA)
FINA Delegate: Evgeny Sharonov
CHINA: Ge Weiqing — Tan Feihu, Liang Zhongsing, Yu Lijun, Guo Jungliang, Zhang Jian, Li Bin, Wang Yang, Xie Junmin, Dong Tianyi, Zhang Chufeng, Liang Nianxiang 1, Gu Liang. Head coach: Rick Azevedo.
SPAIN: Inaki Aguilar — Mario Garcia 2, Blai Mallarach, Balazs Sziranyi, Eric Marsall 1, Marc Minguell, David Martin, Albert Espanol 5, Xavi Valles, Felipe Perrone 2, Ivan Perez, Javier Garcia 1. Head coach: Rafael Aguilar.

China: 0 for 5
Spain: 3 for 4

China: none
Spain: 1 for 2

Though the Chinese had three great games in the group — lost narrowly to Italy and the U.S., and won against Kazakhstan in the penalty shootout –, this afternoon they were no match for the Spanish. Perhaps their previous performance was too convincing and the Spaniards put everything together to avoid any embarrassment: they played with maximum concentration in the back which was bad news for the Chinese as stronger and more experienced teams also find it difficult to harm this disciplined zonal defence. It took more than two and a half periods for the Asians to score their lonely goal of the game — by then the Spanish was far away, they led 6-0, and never looked back. They seemed to force themselves to keep up their determination right until the end, to save this mentality to their next game, a semi final showdown with the World Champion Italians.

Rafael Aguilar (head coach, ESP): “We respected the Chinese as they played really good games in their group. We put special emphasis on defending and we managed to do it on high level and maintain this for the entire game. This was the key of our success.”

Rick Azevedo (head coach, CHN): “Today we tried different things but this time it didn’t go our way. Previously we had some shots which bounced in from the post now they all came out, so instead having a score like 1-2 or 2-3 we were 0-4 down. But that’s no problem, we have a very good defending today, we have good defending on Ivan Perez. It didn’t help that we played without our centre-forward who got a kick to his shoulder yesterday. Also, we conceded only one counter-attack goal in our previous games, now we got four from the counters and this should not happen in today’s water polo.”

Felipe Perrone (ESP): “We were a bit worried about the Chinese so we played with full concentration and determination. Our defence was good, that was the most important thing today. Tomorrow will be a different story: a game with Italy in the Super Final in the Olympic year has a special importance.”

Li Bin (CHN): “We conceded four counter-attack goals, it’s too much. Our offensive play was also bad today, we had too many shots blocked. We didn’t move in our 6 on 5s, but our defending on the centre-forward was fine.”

Game 11: 16:50, Quarter final, ITALY 14 — BRAZIL 1
(3-0, 4-1, 3-0, 4-0)
Referees: Ni Shiwei (CHN), Daniel Flahive (AUS)
FINA Delegate: Gyorgy Martin
ITALY: Giacomo Pastorino — Amaurys Perez, Valerio Rizzo 3, Pietro Figlioli 2, Alex Giorgetti 3, Maurizio Felugo 3, Tamas Marcz, Valentino Gallo 1, Christian Presciutti 1, Deni Fiorentini, Daniel Premus, Arnaldo Deserti 1. Head coach: Alessandro Campagna.
BRAZIL: Thye Bezerra — Caio Lima, Henrique Miranda, Gustavo Coutinho, Cesar Queiroz Junior, Bernardo Gomes, Jonas Crivella, Felipe Silva, Bernardo Rocha, Ruda Franco 1, Gustavo Guimaraes, Danilo Correa, Vinicius Antonelli (GK). Head coach: Carlos Carvalho.

Italy: 5 for 7
Brazil: 1 for 2

Italy: 1 for 1
Brazil: none

By holding the Chinese on one goal by rather tight defending, the Spanish sent a tough message to the Italians. However, the reply came immediately in the next game, as the World Champions also played with the utmost discipline in the back, didn’t let the Brazilians into the game. Similarly to the previous QF between Spain and China, Brazil’s single goal of the game was scored when Italy was 6-0 up — it was a 6 on 5 in the middle of the second period. But that was all the Brazilians could have — their only delight was some neatly neutralised Italian attacks. Sometimes the Italians didn’t make the best choices while setting up their chances, nevertheless they did what it took to win easily.

Alessandro Campagna (head coach, ITA): “We played with good concentration especially in defence. Then, step by step, we started to see some good things in attack as well. The muscles of the players were still a bit tight as we had tough workouts during the first two-three days here. Now the trainings will be eased up as we want to play our last two games in the best possbile condition.”

Carlos Carvalho (head coach, BRA): “We knew it would be a really hard game against the World number one. We tried to play better in offense than we did yesterday against Croatia, however, playing with teams at this level is really hard for us. They are quite tough in defending, also really tough in offence, so for us it’s pretty hard to create scoring opportunities. All in all, we expect a much better performance against the Chinese.”

Alex Giorgetti (ITA): “It was an easy game. We played with concentration with the semi-final against the Spanish in mind, as we’ll meet them in the Olympics as well. We tested some tactical moves in the defence and we did the same in our extras, and mostly they worked. Though our opponent wasn’t the strongest one, still, this game served well for most of the players to gain some more self-confidence.”

Game 12: 18:15, Quarter final, KAZAKHSTAN 6 — CROATIA 13
(2-2, 2-3, 0-4, 2-4)
Referees: German Moller (ARG), Filippo Gomez (ITA)
FINA Delegate: Boukezouha Badreddine
KAZAKHSTAN: Alexandr Shvedov — Sergey Gubarev 1, Nikita Kokorin, Murat Shakenov, Alexey Panfili, Alexey Shmider, Vladimir Ushakov 1, Rustam Ukumanov 1, Evgeniy Zhilyayev 2, Mikhail Ruday, Ravil Manafov 1, Sergey Gorovoy. Head coach: Sergey Drozdov.
CROATIA: Frano Vican — Damir Buric, Miho Boskovic 1, Niksa Dobud 3, Maro Jokovic 1, Andelo Setka 1, Petar Muslim 3, Andro Buslje 1, Sandro Sukno 1, Samir Barac 2, Igor Hinic, Ivan Buljubasic, Josip Pavic (GK). Head coach: Ratko Rudic.

Kazakhstan: 3 for 8
Croatia: 4 for 8

Double extra:
Kazakhstan: 0 for 1
Croatia: none

Kazakhstan: none
Croatia: 2 for 2

The partial scores tell the story: until the home side had enough gas in the tank and the Croatians didn’t give their best, the contest was rather tight, the favourites led only 5-4 at half-time. Then they geared up, raise their level of concentration and produced an 8-2 scoreline for the second half. The Kazakhs didn’t want to disappoint their fans who cheered for them enthusiastically in the previous games so they began with the utmost determination. The Croats seemed to trust in their better skills and physical strength but those factors started to dominate only after the half-time break when the hosts got tiring. In the meantime, the Croatians pulled out the rabbits from their top-hats, and offered the very best of their knowledge of this sport. The short show was enough to win the third quarter 4-0, with some excellent outside shots and great centre-actions. The fourth was also dominated by the Croats who finally looked to be ready for their semis against the US team.

Ratko Rudic (head coach, CRO): “We didn’t start well, we played without motivation, without real preparation. Our player a bit undervalued their rivals, but the Kazakh team is really good as the result showed it half time. A had to lift my voice a bit to force my team playing at a faster pace, more organized, and to do all those things we are capable of. Actually, we tried to play in a way to save some reserve energy for tomorrow, but today you cannot rest, you have to fight in each game.”

Sergey Drozdov (head coach, KAZ): “It was a good game for the first half, our defense was fine, but as we got tired we started to commit mistakes afterwards and the Croatians immediately punished us by shooting a series of goals. Before the game I told my players not to give easy goals for the Croatians but that happened in the second period. However, as a coach I can be satisfied with our performance. We played a good game with a team which is among the best of the world — and I hope it will be different at the Olympics.”

Samir Barac (CRO): “We knew that the Kazakhs had good games in their group so we tried to enter the match playing as hard as we could. And it turned out to be a hard contest, the result is not real, I have to say, since the Kazakhs are better what the scoreline shows.”

Alexandr Shvedov (KAZ): “At the beginning we played well, but this is the fourth game on the fourth day and we didn’t have too much energy left. I cannot be satisfied with my and the team’s performance. Had it finished 10-10 like yesterday, I would be more happy…”

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