Water Polo Wednesday: FINA Women’s Water Polo World League Super Final

PHOENIX, Arizona, June 5. THIS edition of Water Polo Wednesday focuses on the FINA Women's Water Polo World League Super Final, currently going on at the Water Cube in Beijing, China June 1-6. The first three days of preliminary matches are covered in this article; the quarterfinal, semifinal and championship matches will be featured in the roundup article on Friday.

Day 1
The Super Final couldn't have started worse for the United States. China, who had never before beaten the Americans in women's water polo play, defeated the seven-time defending champions in a dramatic, sudden-death penalty shootout match, 16-15. The score was tied at the end of regulation, 11-11. China scored the first three goals of overtime, with Kelly Rulon, Kiley Neushal, Lauren Silver and Steffens scoring for the Americans. At the end of overtime, the score was tied 15-15. Teng Fei scored for China in the shootout for the upset victory.

In the other Group A match, Hungary went up 7-4 by halftime over Russia. It looked as though the Hungarians were the stronger team and would have an easy victory. Russia worked its way into a 10-10 tie halfway through the fourth period on a shot from Elvina Karimova. But with 48 seconds remaining in the game, Szucs shot from 8 meters out and gave Hungary the 11-10 victory.

In Group B, Spain scored two goals inside the first four minutes of their contest with Italy, only to have the Italians go up 3-2 before ending the half at 4-3, Spain, on a goal by Roser Tarrago. Italy turned the tables on the Spanish team, winding up the third period with a 6-5 advantage. The two teams traded goals to begin the final quarter, but goals by Carmen Garcia, Laura Lopez and Anna Espar gave Spain a 9-7 lead. Arianna Garibotti scored with only nine seconds left in the match to end the scoring at 9-8, Spain.

Australia opened up its game against Canada with a 3-1 first quarter lead, which widened to 7-4 at the half. Defense proved to be the key during the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. The two teams traded goals during the third period after Glencora Ralph scored twice for the Australians, and the score going into the final quarter was 11-6, Australia. Rowie Webster ended Australia's scoring at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and Katrina Monton made Canada's last tally at 2:58, giving the Australians a 12-8 victory.

Day 2
The Americans bounced back from their defeat to the Chinese with a 13-9 triumph over Russia. Kami Craig, Maggie Steffens and Kelly Rulon gave the USA a 3-0 beginning on its way to a 5-2 first quarter advantage. Courtney Mathewson and Craig opened up the scoring in the second quarter, and the Americans enjoyed a 9-4 halftime lead. Mathewson again started the scoring in the third period, with Ekaterina Lisunova answering halfway through the period. Jillian Kraus and Neushul padded the American lead to 12-5. Russia dominated the fourth quarter, with goals from Olga Belova, Olga Beliaeva and Evgeniya Ivanova narrowing the gap to 12-8. Annika Dries and Lisunova traded goals to bring the final score to 13-9, United States.

Midway through the second quarter, Hungary found itself with a 7-4 lead over the host Chinese squad and was no doubt feeling very good about the outcome of the game. The Hungarians managed to lose that lead midway through the third quarter on goals from Liu Ping and He Jin. The Chinese at that point had an 9-8 lead, and with goals from Hungary's Orsolya Takacs and China's Sun Yujun, ended the third period with a 10-9 lead. Scoring seesawed during the final period, with the score tied at 13-13 with 1:37 left. Gabriella Szucs scored from 9 meters with 16 seconds remaining in the contest for a 14-13 Hungarian victory.

Spain collected its second victory in Group B competition with a come-from-behind 10-9 victory over Australia. The teams each scored two goals in the first quarter. Spain went up 6-5 at the half via a hat trick from Anna Espar and one from Jennifer Pareja. Australia responded in the third quarter and took an 8-7 lead on two goals from Rowena Webster and one from Bronwen Knox. Carmen Garcia tied it up in the fourth for Spain, and added another after Anni Espar netted her fourth goal of the game. Australia's Nicola Zagame ended the scoring at 1:37 to bring the final score to 10-9, Spain.

The foul count–11 goals in 16 attempts for Italy versus 3 goals in 6 tried for Canada–proved to be the deciding factor in the match, with Italy coming out on top 18-17. Canada had a 5-2 first quarter lead on goals by Joelle Bekhazi, Emma Wright, Dominique Perrault (2) and Sophie Barron La Salle. Six goals were scored by each time in the second period, bringing the halftime score to 11-8 in favor of Canada. Italy further narrowed the gap to 13-12 at the end of the third quarter, led by Roberta Bianconi's hat trick during the period. With seesaw scoring during much of the quarter, the teams found themselves tied 17-17 at the final minute of play. Giulia Emmolo scored the winning goal with three seconds left on the clock for Italy's victory.

Day 3
Tumuaialii Anae's goalkeeping skills and 16 saves enabled the United States to hold Hungary to just three goals through three quarters of play. The Americans were able to stave off Hungary's four-goal effort in the last period, three of which came on penalties, to gain their second victory, 10-7. Maggie Steffens and Kami Craig scored in the first period for the USA, with Dora Antal finding the net for Hungary. The next nine-and-a-half minutes were scoreless, ending the half at 4-1, USA. The Americans exploded in the third period for six goals, led by Melissa Seidemann and Kylie Neushal, both of whom scored four goals. The Hungarians fought back in the last frame, holding the Americans scoreless while getting goals from Gabriella Szucs, Kata Menczinger, Orsola Takacs and Barbara Bujka.

China kept Russia winless with a 13-10 victory. The Chinese jumped out to a 4-2 first-quarter lead on goals from Ma Huanhuan's two goals plus contributions from Zhu Yajing and Zhang Cong. Song Donglun and Teng Fei's two goals increased China's lead to 7-3 at the half. In that period, China's assistant coach, Hong Xicheng, was red-carded. Four goals were scored in the third period by both teams, keeping the Chinese advantage at 11-7. Russia outscored China 3-2 in the final quarter on goals from Evgeniya Ivanova, Ekaterina Lisunova and Ekaterina Prokofyeva, but it wasn't enough as the scoreboard read China 13, Russia 10 at the buzzer.

Italy took charge in its match against Australia, storming to a 11-6 lead after the end of three periods of play. Australia put together a furious five-goal effort in the final quarter but ended one goal short. The final score was 12-11, Italy. The Australians had a 2-1 lead early on, but Italy ended up with a 4-3 first period lead. On goals by Tania DiMario, Roberta Bianconi and Elisa Queirolo, Italy finished the half with a 7-4 advantage. Italy continued its domination with four goals in the third period, thanks in large part to Arianna Garibotti's two-goal effort. Roberta Bianconi and Glencora Ralph were ejected at the end of the third period for fighting. In the fourth period, Zoe Arancini scored twice to lead Australia to their five-goal fourth period. Isobel Bishop, Rowena Webster and Nicola Zagame added goals to tie the game at 12-12. Giulia Emmolo scored with 51 seconds left to win the game for Italy.

Spain's ball control and defensive success in front of their goal gave them a 9-8 victory over Canada. As in the game against Italy the previous day, Canada also suffered from a lack of extra-man goals, only scoring on two of 13 attempts. Spain began the game with two goals in the first three minutes of the game, then Canada brought the deficit to 2-1 on a goal from Sophie Baron La Salle with 2:25 left to end the period. After trading goals in the second period to get to 4-3, Spain, the Spaniards scored two goals to increase their lead to 6-3 by halftime. Each team scored two goals in the third period for an 8-5 finish. Krystina Alogbo and Carmen Eggens scored to bring the score to 8-7 early in the third period. Eggens' second goal of the period with 33 seconds left tied the game up, but 19 seconds later Spain's Roser Tarrago's goal iced the game for Spain.

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