Worlds Water Polo: Netherlands Wins Shootout Over Spain for First Gold in 32 Years

Team Netherlands celebrates after winning the gold medal in the Women Water Polo tournament at the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall B in Fukuoka (Japan), July 28th, 2023.
Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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Worlds Water Polo: Netherlands Wins Shootout Over Spain for First Gold in 32 Years

Brigitte Sleeking’s goal in the fifth round of the shootout gave the Netherlands a 17-16 win over Spain Friday in the women’s water polo championship game at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka.

The Dutch went 5-for-5 in the shootout, and with one save from goalie Laura Aarts, it was enough to end a 32-year gold medal drought.

The Dutch won bronze in 2022 but were seventh in 2019 and ninth in 2017, a rapid rise back to prominence. They won silver in 2015 but hadn’t won gold since 1991 in Perth, just the second edition of the women’s tournament.

It consigned Spain, who last won the tournament in 2013, to a third silver medal in the last four editions of the tournament.

Italy bested Australia, 16-14, in the bronze-medal match. Italy lost the bronze-medal match to the Netherlands in Budapest last year and last medaled in third in 2015.

celebrates after winning the gold medal in the match women water polo Netherlands v. Spain the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall B in Fukuoka (Japan), July 28th, 2023.

Netherlands goalies Laura Aarts, left, and Sarah Buis celebrate after winning the gold-medal match Friday; Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

The final was an instant classic. The Dutch took a two-goal lead into the fourth quarter, when Maartje Keuning scored with 18 seconds left in the frame. They would stretch that lead to 10-7 on Simone van de Kraats’ goal 89 second into the fourth.

But Spain answered with three straight goals, three from Paula Crespi and one from Bea Ortiz, at 4:29, to tie the game at 10. Sleeking put the Dutch ahead, but Judith Forca answered. When Lieke Rogge gave the Dutch a 12-11 bump with 1:55 left, Spain fought back, Forca forcing home a second-chance shot with 15 seconds left to tie the game at 12. A Sabrina van der Sloot shot with two seconds left was blocked to reach the shootout.

“I am really proud of my team,” van der Sloot said. “I think what we did was just the game that we love, that we play every day. And you don’t need motivation to play the final, and the World Championship, and you don’t need motivation to win these games. I mean, we always want to win, but these types of games are special and we try to just focus and enjoy. I think this is like a really good start to our Olympic (campaign). And we keep building. This is not the end.”

Spain shot first, and both teams converted their first two shots – Elena Ruiz and Forca for Spain, van der Sloot and Rogge for the Dutch. But Aarts came up with the stop in the third round, denying Ortiz.

From there, van de Kraats took the initiative, then Keuning and Sleeking buried their shots to set off the celebrations.

Sleeking and van de Kraats led the way with four goals each for the Netherlands, Sleeking adding five assists. Van der Sloot and Rogge scored three times each, and Keuning added a pair of goals. Van der Sloot had four assists. Aarts made eight saves. The Dutch converted 17 of 29 shots (59 percent).

Forca led Spain with six goals. Maica Garcia was 3-for-3 shooting, and Ruiz added a hat trick. Anni Espar had a goal and four assists.

Italy used a 5-0 run between the third and fourth quarters to take control of the third-place game.

Australia scored the first goal of the second half to break a tie at the break and lead 11-10. But Claudia Marletta scored twice, then Roberta Bianconi scored three in a row, her sixth goal of the game with 4:28 left making it 15-11 and ending the Aussies’ medal hopes.

Marletta scored five times to go with an assist. Sofia Giustini had three goals and three assists. Caterina Banchelli made nine saves in goal.

“I am really happy, but I cannot score if the team does not play like this,” Bianconi said. “So it is thanks to the team, because they did a really good job, All of us, we did a really good job. Today we were sure we could win and we proved it in the water. I am really proud of them.”

Nine Australians scored, led by a hat trick from Alice Williams. Abby Andrews had two goals and three assists, Bronte Halligan two and two. Italy converted 16 of 29 shots into goals (55 percent), including a deadly 8-for-10 on power plays.

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