By Bruce Wigo
BEIJING, China, August 17. IN Women's Water Polo quarterfinal action at Yindong Natatorium this afternoon, Australia beat China tonight, 12 – 11, and will advance to play the United States in the semifinal on Tuesday night. In the second match of the day, the Netherlands upset Italy, the Olympic Champions from Athens, in an overtime shoot-out, 13 – 11. The Netherlands will meet Hungary in the other semifinal.
Kate Gynther scored five goals for Australia in the win over upset-minded China. The Chinese were the great surprise of the women's tournament. Their style of play was fast swimming and movement, combined with great ball handling skills made their Games the highest scoring and most exciting of the competition. Coach Juan Jane deserves great credit for the rapid development of this team of Juniors. Considering this team entered the tournament with little international experience and average age of less than 21 years of age, their result is nothing short of remarkable. In their four Games to date, they lost to powerhouses America, Italy and Australia by a combined 3 goals and beat the reigning European champion by two.
The Netherlands has a long and storied history in women's water polo. They were the dominant nation in the pre-Olympic era, but finished fourth in Sydney, when women's water polo made its Olympic debut and failed to qualify for Athens. With a little over two minutes remaining in today's game, Italy's Eilsa Casanova, wearing a padded mask reminiscent of the Phantom of the Opera to protect her broken nose, scored a goal from the hole to make the score 7 – 8. Then, with just a few seconds remaining in the game, Italy was awarded a penalty throw, which Erzebet Valkai converted for the tying goal. After the two, three-minute periods went scoreless, the Dutch blocked the second penalty throw taken by the Italians and were perfect at their end for the win.
With their victory tonight, they advance to the semifinals against Group B's winner Hungary. When the two teams met in their first match of this tournament, the Hungarians came out on top 11 – 9.
The United States and Australia have a storied rivalry. In the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the two teams met in the gold medal final before 17,000 spectators. In that game, which was the Olympic debut for women's water polo, Australia won on a last second shot. The two met again in Athens in the Bronze medal game won by the U.S. These teams have trained together frequently and know each other very well. The advantage has to go to the Americans, but at this stage, anything is possible.