Against the backdrop of a landmark decision last Thursday by FINA’s Technical Water Polo Congress, which approved an increase in women’s teams at the Tokyo Olympics from eight to ten, group play for women’s water polo at the 17th FINA World Championships opened Sunday at the Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Stadium in Budapest. With all sixteen teams in action, the results were almost entirely predictable, with tournament favorite USA and host Hungary posting lopsided wins.
Team USA, targeting a second-straight FINA World Championship title—and seeking to continue a string of success that includes Olympic gold in London (2012) and Rio (2016)—dominated South Africa by a score of 24-2. Gabby Stone and Amanda Longan—stepping in for goalie Ashleigh Johnson, who did not make the trip to Budapest—were barely tested by ten South African shots, registering a combined five saves. USA’s Jamie Neushul topped all scorers on the day, connecting on six of seven shots. Melissa Seidemann went five for five as the Americans scored on 24 of their 37 shots.
Next up for the U.S. in Group B play is a match against Spain, a 10-2 winner over New Zealand thanks to a hat trick by Paula Leiton Arrones. Tuesday’s contest between the past two gold medalists at FINA Worlds—the Spaniards won the 2013 title in Barcelona—offers an early test of the Americans’ hopes. South Africa and New Zealand will face off in the day’s other Group B match-up.
In front of 6,000 fans, host Hungary opened with a 20-11 victory over Group C rival Japan . Barbara Bujka netted five goals while Rita Keszthelyi and Ildiko Toth collected four apiece. On Tuesday the Hungarians will face France, a 17-2 loser to the Netherlands. Led by Lieke Klaassen’s four goals, the Dutch broke out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and were never headed. Japan is up next for the Netherlands, which is looking to reverse two years of frustration that includes missing out on the Rio Olympics and dropping a 9-7 decision to Hungary in the 2016 European Championship final.
After going down 2-1 in the first period, Italy scored five straight times on its way to a 10-4 win over Canada in Group A action. Silver medalists in Rio, the Italians got a spectacular performance from goalie Giulia Gorlero, who made 19 saves. Next up for Italy is a match against Brazil, which dropped an 11-4 decision to China, who were led by Cong Zhang’s three goals.
The Canadians—with high hopes for FINA Worlds’ success after capturing silver in the 2017 FINA World League Super Finals—will look to get into the winner’s column against China. Given Italy’s strong start, this match has major implications: only one of these two teams is likely to advance from Group A.
The day’s most competitive match took place in Group D, as Russia topped Greece 9-7 on a trio of goals each by Ekaterina Prokofyeva and Anastasia Simanovich. The Greeks will now look to rebound with a win against Kazakhstan, a 16-4 loser to Australia. Russia will face an Aussie squad that got five goals from Rowie Webster on seven shots as Australia connected on half its 32 attempts against Kazakhstan’s Alexandra Zharkimbayeva, who registered eight saves.