Trieste, Italy (January 23).—  2008 champion Netherlands is back into the Olympic Games after a 13-year hiatus and Hungary beat 2004 champion Italy to secure the final tickets for Tokyo 2020 following semifinal action on the fifth day of the women’s water polo Olympic Games Qualification Tournament in the Bruno Bianchi Aquatic Centre today.

Netherlands put paid to Greece’s quest to return to the Olympics after missing Rio in 2016 with a 7-4 victory and Hungary tumbled Italy from the Games with a 13-10 showing.

Greece will be ruing the lost opportunities, leading 2-1 and 4-3 at the first two breaks, only to be held sccoreless in the second half.

For Hungary, it was the goal-scoring queen, Rita Keszthelyi, who once again reigned supreme with six goals, lifting her Triete tally to an incredible 26. The Olympics needs her and sher needs the Olympics with the possibility of elevating Hungary from three fourth-placed finishes to the podium. Dominant throughout, Hungary still only had a 9-7, final-break advantage, however, stretching that to four-goal margins twice in the final eight minutes.

The fact that both matches were three-goal margins was an emphatic realisation by the victors that nothing but the best was required in the semifinals.

Greece and Italy were unbeaten heading into the semifinals, as was Netherlands with its draw against Italy earlier in the week. So only Arno Havenga’s Netherlands made it through to the final day unscathed.

The finals mean nothing, other than pride.

In the round 5-8 semifinals, Kazakhstan needed a last-gasp goal to beat Slovakia 11-10 and France downed Israel 11-4.

Some historical data here will be of huge interest to many of you.

I witnessed Palermo 2000 when United States of America and Russia prevailed over Italy and Hungary for the final two positions to the six-team inaugural women’s competition in Sydney, Australia. A huge crowd spurred Italy on to no avail in the semifinals and the play-off for bronze the following day attracted almost no-one and players on the referee rostrum cried during the presentations.

FINA Media Committee member Gergely Csurka provides some pre-match insight:

“The Greece-Netherlands match-up cannot be any more gruelling. These are the two among the elite teams which missed the Olympics in 2012 and 2016. And both lost in extremely tight quarterfinals at the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments on both occasions, so it was extremely painful for them not to make the cut (Greece bowed out as reigning 2011 world champion in 2012 in Trieste; the Netherlands lost to Italy, well, among the 'usual' circumstances when Italy plays at home – then the Netherlands lost at home in 2016 after world silver in 2015 and European silver earlier in January 2016).

“Greece, in fact, was in full control against Russia in 2016 — led by two late in the game — but the Russians miraculously came back, then Greece scored what seemed to be a sure winner with a couple of seconds remaining, but the Russians scored an unreal goal, won the shootout and went to Rio (where they similarly came back at the very end against Hungary, beat the buzzer for the tie, won the shootout and the bronze...).

“So today the pain will continue for one of the two. It's going to a third missed Olympics in a row for the loser of that semi.

“Ever since Italy and Hungary missed in 2000, both made the cut on every occasion, so here the loser will miss the Games for the first time since 2000.”

Saturday Semifinal Programme

Round 5-8
Match 17, 14:00, KAZAKHSTAN 11 SLOVAKIA 10
Match 18, 16:00, FRANCE  11 ISRAEL 4
Round 1-4
Match 19, 18:00, NETHERLANDS 7 GREECE 4
Match 20, 20:00, HUNGARY 13 ITALY 10

Sunday Finals Programme

Match 21, 14:00, SVK v ISR
Classification 7-8
Match 22, 16:00, KAZ v FRA
Classification 5-6
Match 23, 18:00, GRE v ITA
Classification 3-4
Match 24, 20:00, NED v HUN
Classification 1-2