By Greg Eggert – FINA Press Commission
LONG BEACH, CALIF, July 2 – THE NEWEST success was the World League Super Finals victory at the Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre at Long Beach, California, USA, and its sights are now firmly set on the gold medal it covets so much: the Olympic crown.
By beating World Cup champion Hungary 12-10 after a penalty shootout, the
North Americans have maintained a proud record of finishing first in the
last six championships it has contested.
But coach Guy Baker won't rest until the Olympic medal is safely tucked Away.
The electrifying final had the 3000-plus crowd thundering its applause as
the teams went goal for goal. Hungary led twice in the opening quarter to
the USA's one. Both teams enjoyed the lead in the second and the third. The
Hungarians went one up in the final quarter and the USA equalized more than
five minutes from time. Then came the heart-stopping penalty shootout as
five players from each team went to the five-meter line to make their mark.
The USA opened through Brenda Villa but Hungary's Agnes Valkai missed. Both
teams scored and missed in the next two rounds. Then they both converted the fourth-round shots leaving the USA 11-10 ahead with a shot in hand. Natalie Golda swam to the line and scored to win the title and $US 40,000 cash, negating the need for Hungary to have its last attempt.
Hungary was distraught but the consolation, if any, was a silver medal and
The success of this tournament was shown, not just by the large numbers
watching (the final night attracted more than 3000 spectators, a USA record
for a women¹s game), but also the closeness of the competition.
The bronze-medal game was a tremendous appetizer for the gold match.
European Italy also needed a penalty shootout to down Russia, leveling the
game at 10-10 by full-time and going into sudden-death shootout after the
regulation five shots saw both teams score four and miss one. The immaculate Maria Yaina, a scorer of a fantastic seven goals in regular time, was her team¹s lead-out shooter and scored her second penalty in sudden death, for nine goals in the game. Italy responded, Russia missed the next attempt and Tania Di Mario sealed the game for Italy by scoring to win the game 15-14.
Canada headed off Greece 6-5 in the play-off for fifth and Australia whipped Kazakhstan 9-2 for seventh place.
The teams had been placed in two groups and the winners were not those
battling it out for gold. Russia won all three games in Group A, including a
10-5 hammering of the USA, who finished second, by virtue of beating Greece
9-7 after being level at 6-6 in the final period.
Group B¹s winner, Italy, finished atop the table by beating Hungary 6-4 in
the very first match. Hungary beat Canada 12-7 and Australia 5-4 while the
clash for third place went to the sudden-death shootout with Canada emerging a 12-11 winner over Olympic and Commonwealth champion Australia.
Seven of the 20 games were won by a single goal and showed that the Olympic
battle will be Herculean.
The USA¹s Brenda Villa was again a standout performer but her entire team
all produced when needed, especially Jacqueline Frank in stopping penalties
in the crucial shootout. Hungary¹s Agnes Valkai was tireless while veteran
Mercedes Stieber was still scoring goals. For Russia, Yaina was merciless in the bronze match but goalkeeper Valentina Vorontsova was impressive all
week. The main player for Russia throughout was, however, Sofya Konukh.
Canada had Cora Campbell and Valerie Dionne; Greece had strong center
forward Stavroula Kozompoli; Australia relied on 11-goal star Elise Norwood
and goalkeeper Emma Knox, while Kazakhstan had the busy Irina Tolkounova.
The venue for the World League Super Finals was a spectacular temporary
construction on a car park on the Long Beach foreshore and was also utilized by swimming for an international meet and the US Olympic trials. A full eight-lane 50m pool was the competition pool while the warm pool was an eight-lane 50m pool with a three-lane, 25m attachment. The main-pool stands were capable of taking 10,000 spectators.