Women’s Water Polo: China Grabs Historic Title at Super Final

China defeated Russia, 8-7, to claim its first-ever FINA Women's Water Polo World League Super Final–and its first-ever title in any major women's water polo competition–in front of a partisan home crowd at the Water Cube in Beijing. In the semifinal round, China prevented the United States from vying for its eighth straight title at the Super Final. The Americans settled for the bronze medal with an 10-9 triumph over Hungary.

Our “Water Polo Wednesday” article focused on the three preliminary rounds of this competition. In this edition, we will look at the quarterfinal, semifinal and championship matches.

June 4 — Quarterfinals
Hungary 17, Australia 16
Australia began the game with leads of 2-1 and 4-1 on the way to a 6-2 advantage at the end of the first quarter. Rowena Webster's two goals led the Aussie assault. In the second period, Hungary closed the gap to 6-5 courtesy of Ibolya Miskolczi's two goals and Barbara Bluka's shot. After a see-saw period which saw the game tie up at 8-8, Zagame gave Australia a last-second goal and a 9-8 halftime advantage.

Takacs put the ball in the net in between two shots from Isobel Bishop to bring the third-period scoring to a close at 11-9, Australia. Dora Antal and Bluka tied the game up early in the fourth quarter, then more back-and-forth scoring brought the score at the end of regulation to 13-13. Hungary earned four goals in the shootout to Australia's three, ending with Takacs' fourth goal and a 17-16 Hungarian victory.

China 11, Italy 8
In a penalty-filled match that included eight double exclusions, China made its way to the semifinal round with an 11-8 triumph over Italy. Roberta Bianconi opened up the scoring, but China fired back with two goals from Zhang Lei and one from Sun Yujun. China ended the first quarter with a 5-2 lead. Sun Yating and Zhang Cong began the second quarter scoring, giving the Chinese a 7-2 margin at that point. Italy bounced back with goals from Aleksandra Cotti and Giulia Emmolo. He Jin received a penalty goal to bring the halftime score to 8-4.

Bianconi (Italy) and Sun Yujun (China) scored in the third period for a 9-5 Chinese advantage. In a see-saw fourth period, Tania Di Mario, Bianconi and Emmolo scored for Italy, with China's Zhang Cong and Sun Yujun scoring in between the trio for the final 11-8 score.

USA 6, Canada 5
The United States avoided a penalty shootout with a low-scoring 6-5 victory over their northern neighbors. Courtney Mathewson and Kelly Rulon started the Americans' scoring in the first quarter, with Emma Wright cutting the deficit to one for a 2-1 American lead, which carried over into the halftime.

Lauren Silver gave the USA a 3-1 lead three minutes into the third quarter. Katrina Monton answered back for Canada shortly after Silver's goal, and Monika Eggens–who had hit the goal posts five times–finally got one in to equalize the score at 3-3. Karri Craig put the Americans ahead, with Carmen Eggens tied the game up at the 1:04 mark, with the third period ending at 4-4. Jillian Kraus and Rulon gave the Americans a 6-4 lead but, with 1:43 left, Monika Eggens netted a shot from the top to cut the deficit to one. The Americans wound up with a 6-5 victory, plus a chance to defend their title.

Russia 11, Spain 9
Russia's Olga Beliaeva earned the first goal of the game. Then the Russians watched as Spain proceeded to score four goals during the next eight minutes of play. Pilar Pena and Jennifer Pareja brought the first quarter score to 2-1, and Roser Tarrago scored twice for a 4-1 advantage by 6:56 of the second period. Russia's Ekaterina Prokofyeva, Ekaterina Lisunova and Beliaeva went on a three-goal streak, with Ona Meseguer countering for a 5-4 lead for Spain at the half.

Prokofyeva tied it up at the beginning of the third period, with Tarrago coming right back for Spain. Alexandra Antonova tied the game at 4:59 (6-6) and gave Russia the lead three minutes later. Anna Espar scored with three seconds left in the period for another tie score (7-7). In another three-goal spurt, Prokofyeva, Lisunova and Beliaeva put Russia ahead 10-7 by the 3:39 mark of the final quarter. Laura Lopez scored with 42 seconds left

In a controversial move, Spain called a timeout with 14 seconds left–although it appeared that both referees had turned over the ball before Russia had used possession time. After a long discussion, Russia gained a penalty, Lisunova scored and Russia won, 11-9.

June 5 — Semifinals
Spain 14, Australia 13 (penalty shootout)
This match featured several lead changes and a 3-1 final quarter that enabled Australia to force a shootout. Spain's Anna Espar began with two goals during the first quarter, with Ashleigh Southern bringing the quarter to a 2-1 conclusion. Jennifer Pareja and Maica Garcia padded Spain's lead to 4-1 in the second quarter, but Southern nabbed two more goals and Rowena Webster added one in between to tie the match. Australia went ahead with Bronwen Knox's goal at 1:26. Roser Tarrago closed out the scoring in the first half with her goal at 42 seconds for a 5-5 tie.

Webster regained the lead for Australia, but Tarrago and Pilar Pena put Spain ahead 7-6 at that point in the third quarter. Tarrago and Pena then scored consecutive goals again to give Spain a 9-7 lead at the end of the third quarter after Nicola Zaganfe tied the game at 7 each. Webster scored twice in the final frame, and Knox added one at 1:57 to send the game to penalty shootout at 10-10. Goals from Ona Meseguer, Andrea Blas, Espar and Laura Lopez enabled Spain to swim away with a 14-13 triumph.

Italy 13, Canada 9
Arianna Garibotti started the Italian scoring within the first half minute of play. Emma Wright and Joelle Bekhazi stormed back with two goals for Canada, answered by Italy's Giulia Emmolo and Roberta Bianconi. Canada's Dominique Perrault scored with 44 seconds remaining to tie the score at 3-3 at the end of the first quarter. Wright gave Canada the lead early in the second period, but Emmolo and Aleksandra Cotti put Italy up 5-4. Tania Di Mario then scored two straight goals to extend the Italian lead to 7-4 at the half.

Canada's Bekhazi scored the first and third goals of the third quarter, with Garibotti in between, for an 8-6 Italy advantage. Italy increased its lead to four, courtesy of Emmolo's and Bianconi's goals. Monika Eggens and Bianconi traded goals for a 11-7 third-period ending score. Canada and Italy traded goals two more times in the final period for a final 13-9 score.

China 9, USA 7
The two teams used the first quarter to figure out the other team's strategy. Only one goal was scored in the first quarter by China's Ma Huanhuan. China increased its lead to 3-0 with scores from Song Donglun and Sun Yujun. Kami Craig got the Americans on the board from the center forward position. Liu Ping put the Chinese up 4-1 on a penalty shot. Lauren Silver used her penalty shot to bring the Americans to 4-2 at the end of the first half.

Song had an extra-man conversion to begin the third-period scoring. Mathewson got a goal at 4:44, followed by two penalty misses for the Americans in three-and-a-half minutes. Mei Xiaohan and Silver traded goals, with Ma closing out the third period with two seconds left for a 7-4 Chinese lead. Annika Dries scored the first two goals of the last period and Maggie Steffens tied it up at 7-7. Zhang Cong and He Jin scored for what would prove to be the final score at 9-7. The USA tried several times during the last minutes of the game, but just didn't have enough to equal the score.

June 6 — Championship Round
After all the preliminaries, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, the gold medal was fought for between China and Russia. The USA met Hungary in the bronze medal contest. Spain and Italy met for fifth place, while Australia and Canada played for seventh.

Seventh Place: Australia 9, Canada 8
This contest was much closer than their initial-day match, when Australia won 12-8. The key to this game was in penalty shots, with Australia converting seven of 10 and Canada managing just one out of 10.

Emma Wright–just 16 years old–opened the scoring from eight meters out. Australians Rowena Webster and Zoe Arancini scored six minutes apart to bring the first period scoring to 2-1, Australia. Keesja Gofers increased the Aussie lead to 3-1, followed by Sophie Baron La Salle's penalty shot. Isobel Bishop and Monika Eggens traded goals for the two countries, with the score at 4-3, Australia, at the half.

Webster scored her 17th goal of the tournament and Southern put Australia ahead 6-3 at 3:47 of the third period. Dominique Perrault then scored two goals, with Carmen Eggens putting on in between Perrault's goals, to tie up the contest at 6-6. Wright put Canada ahead at the start of the fourth period. Australia went on a three-goal streak of its own, with Jayde Appel, Arancini and Nicola Zagame scoring. Monika Eggens put in a shot with 15 seconds left, but Australia held on to the ball for their 9-8 victory.

Fifth Place: Spain 10, Italy 8
Spain improved slightly on its 9-8 winning score from the first day with its 10-8 defeat of Italy in the fifth-place game. Spaniards Anna Espar and Matilda Ortiz got things going inside the first 90 seconds of the match; Federica Radicchi halved the deficit to 2-1 four-and-a-half minutes later to bring the first period scoring to a close. The second quarter played out much the same way, with goals being traded and the score improving to 5-5 at halftime.

Ortiz, Roser Tarrago and Jennifer Pareja brought the score to 8-5 Spain. Italy's Giulia Emmolo responded, as did Aleksandra Cotti. Anna Espar scored with two seconds left in the quarter for a 9-7 Spanish third-quarter lead. Maica Garcia was the only player on either side to put the goal in the net in the final frame, giving Spain fifth place with a 10-8 score.

Third Place: USA 10, Hungary 9
The Americans had something to prove. For the last seven years, the team had played for the gold medal. Having lost to China in the semifinal round, and knowing they had defeated the Hungarians 10-7 on Day 3, they were more than ready to win.

Annika Dries got the scoring started for the USA. The Hungarians then took charge, scoring four goals to take a 4-1 lead after the first period. Ibolya Miskolczi scored two of the goals with single efforts from Gabrielle Scuzs and Rita Keszthelyi. Miskolczi earned her hat trick at 6:26 of the second period, making it 5-1 in favor of Hungary. The USA began to fight back, getting goals from Kylie Neushul and Kelly Rulon to lower the deficit to 5-3 at the half.

Dries got her second goal at 7:40 of the third quarter, followed by Szucs' second. The Americans then fired off four unanswered goals courtesy of Maggie Steffens, Kameryn Craig, Courtney Mathewson and Lauren Silver. The score quickly became 8-6 at the end of the third period. Steffens' second goal came at the 4:47 mark of the last period. Dora Antal then put in two goals. Silver and Keszthelyi exchanged goals for the final 10-9 score.

Championship: China 8, Russia 7
China earned its first gold medal ever in senior women's water polo competition in front of a packed crowd in their home country, thanks to a total team effort. China had defeated Russia 13-10 on the third day of the tournament, but this was a hard-fought battle on both sides and neither team gave up.

China began the scoring with a goal from Ma Huanhuan in the first half minute of play. Goals from Sun Yujun and Ma, with a shot from Ekaterina Lisunova in between, for a 3-1 Chinese lead after the first period. Lisunova's second goal was her 16th in the tournament and a penalty shot as well to begin the second period. Olga Belova got a high shot from the near post to bring the halftime score to 4-2, China.

Olga Beliaeva evened the score in the beginning of the third period. Teng Fei, Song Donglun and Sun Yating scored consecutive goals for China, Elvina Karimova scored at 2:55. The third period ended with China ahead 7-5. Akeksandra Antonova lowered the gap to one and things began to get very interesting. Ma scored what would turn out to be China's final goal of the game at 4:39. Russia's Belova ended the scoring at 2:33 for the 8-7 final score. The Russians had several chances after that to score, but they were denied by the Chinese defense.