BARCELONA, July 15. HOW long a champion? World champion Italy was beaten by a more recent champion in the women's water polo competition at CN Barcelona tonight.
Hungary, with the World Cup crown it won in Perth, Australia, last December, defeated Italy 11-10 in probably the best match of the tournament, only grabbing the lead inside the last two minutes.
Zsuzsanna Tiba took the lead for Hungary at 1:54 with a shot from eight metres and Agnes Valkay scored her third at 1:17 on a cross pass to seal the match. Cinzia Ragusa dragged one back but was ejected with 26 seconds left, allowing Hungary to have a timeout and control the ball until the hooter.
All is not lost as both will win on Thursday but it will be Hungary which sits out the second round. In Fukuoka, Japan two years ago, Italy lost to Russia but won the title. In Perth in 1998, Italy lost three games and still went away with the title.
By the sounds of the German spectators, the German women were hard done by. But such was the support for the players that Germany got across the line against Greece, which has now suffered two losses. Better still for Germany, it was a second victory and passage to the second round and beyond. The stunning 10-8 victory was owed much to the almost arrogance of Ariane Rump, the brute strength of Stefanie Schindelbauer and the swift reflexes of goalkeeper Simone Budde.
The Germans were 3-1, 6-4 and 10-6 ahead at the breaks Head coach Marcel Ter Bal was visibly excited after the match, as much as the Greek players were distraught.
Ter Bal said: "We've improved a lot because we've trained hard and the federation has given us more money."
On the other side of the fence, Greek captain Dmitra Asilian said: "It was a very bad game for us. All things went wrong."
The game was sixth on the program and until then the games had run their courses without controversy or closeness.
World No 3 Canada sent off Brazil 9-2 in the Americas match, Olympic champion Australia defeated Great Britain 16-2 in what was a close thing for the Aussies. By having a 14-goal margin, Australia goes into the third match against Canada with a one-goal advantage. Should the teams tie, Australia will receive the bye into the quarter-finals.
Russia pummelled Venezuela 23-4 to take a stranglehold of Group B, ahead of the Netherlands, who downed Japan 15-3. With a two-goal advantage, the Dutch need to win to miss the second round.
The United States of America has a three-goal advantage over Germany after beating France 15-3. The USA trained heavily in the morning, including weights, so just needed the win to get ready for Thursday.
In Group D, following Hungary's win, Spain enthralled the large crowd with a 7-4 win over Kazakhstan. Anna Ramirez was raised to "Sainthood" with a stunning four-goal haul.
Points after two days:
Group A: AUS 4 (+21), CAN 4 (+20), BRA 0 (-14), GBR 0 (-27).
Group B: RUS 4 (+28), NED 4 (+26), JPN 0 (-21), VEN 0 (-33).
Group C: USA 4 (+15), GER 4 (+12), GRE 0 (-5), FRA 0 (-22).
Group D: HUN 4 (+10), ITA 2 (+4), ESP 2 (-6), KAZ 0 (-8).
Summaries of this evening's games:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 15 FRANCE 3
World No. 2, the USA was out for goal difference and a healthy one at that, in beating lower-ranked France. However, France played strongly and restricted many USA attacks, keeping the game to a respectable margin.
The USA kept a clean sheet in the first quarter at 5-0 with Ellen Estes and Brenda Villa scoring twice each. Laure Gauthreau scored France's first goal to start the second quarter and Louise Guillet added another later in the period but Villa and Estes added a goal each for the 9-2 score at the turn.
The third period belonged to the USA pair as the score edged out to 14-2, Villa scoring a hat-trick and Estes two. Villa and Robin Beauregard scored consecutive penalty goals in the last 90 seconds.
So tight was the last quarter that it finished a goal apiece with Gauthreau firing her shot into the top left from halfway!
GERMANY 10 GREECE 8
Germany, like its men yesterday, stunned Greece in what must be a resurgence in water polo fortunes for the nation. Germany did the damage from the start, racing to a 3-1 lead at the quarter and 6-4 at halftime.
The margin was close but Germany looked the better team with smoother finishing. Stefanie Schindelbauer had three goals in the bag by halftime, including an arrogant shot from 10m. Then the crunch came for Greece as Germany rattled in three goals for 9-4 midway through the third quarter. Greece brought it back to 10-6 at the break and won the last period 2-0 but the effort was too little, too late. Greek captain Dmitra Asilian said: "It was a very bad game for us. All things went wrong.".
HUNGARY 11, ITALY 10
This was the match everyone had come to watch, the clash of the champions. World Cup champion Hungary versus World champion Italy and the Agnes brigade, Valkay and Primasz, scored four goals each.
The match started at a cracking pace, ending seven minutes 4-4 after Italy shot out of the blocks 3-1. Hungary had a brief flirt with the lead at the start of the second quarter but it was short-lived as Italy went 7-5 ahead. The halftime scored read 8-6 to Italy.
Hungary made some headway in the third to be just 9-8 down with Primasz scoring her third and Agnes Valkay, dragging in a second. Coach Tamas Farago did the talk at the break and Valkay, Zsuzsanna Tiba and Valkay again, for her fourth, had Hungary 11-9 up.
Cinzia Ragusa dragged one back for Italy but was ejected with 26 seconds left, allowing Hungary to have a timeout and control the ball until the hooter.
SPAIN 7 KAZAKHSTAN 4
Anna Ramirez deserves a public holiday named after her following her four-goal haul in a spirited victory over Kazakhstan.
Spain scored in the first attack through Merce Valles to set the crowd alight but Svetlana Koroleva returned the compliment on penalty soon after. Cristina Lopez saw to it that Spain led 2-1 at the break from left-hand catch. Koroleva levelled the game with a lob and Anna Ramirez scored on extra for a 3-2 lead for the home team. Then Kazakhstan sprayed a penalty attempt and, on the counter, Ramirez accepted a dry pass, turned and scored, 12 seconds from the half.
Three minutes into the third period, Koroleva netted a third goal straight after the ejection. Ramirez scored a brilliant third goal, coming from under water in two metres, 5:34 in the final quarter. Valles scored on counter and Koroleva lobbed her fourth goal for 7-4.
(courtesy of FINA)