Russia came back from three down in the opening quarter to beat Canada 10-8 for the bronze medal.

It was Russia’s fourth bronze medal at this level to go with the 2008 gold and two silvers. Canada was unlucky not to have added a bronze to its two silvers, considering it was a group winner.

Canada started with typical fire and denied Russia entry for more than four minutes but then allowed Russia in through an Anastasia Simanovich centre-forward scoop and two counter-attack goals that ended in lobs. Joelle Bekhazi forced Evgeniia Golovina to push the ball under and Hayley McKelvey converted the penalty. A deep left shot from Veronika Vakhitova milliseconds before the buzzer made it 4-4.

The second period was one of the closest of the tournament with a goal each — Ekaterina Prokofyeva drilling one from seven metres and Emma Wright accepting a high ball to score from two metres on the next attack.

Russia controlled the third period in a shutout, which could have been more of a margin if Prokofyeva’s penalty attempt a minute in had not been stopped by Jessica Gaudreault with her right hand. That behind, Russia went four straight with Evgeniya Ivanova on extra-man attack;  Elvina Karimova snapping in a rebound; Vakhitova on extra and Ivanova from the left-hand-catch position. It was a telling statistic with just one quarter remaining.

Canada was undeterred and took a couple of minutes to slip under Russia’s guard with Gurpreet Sohi scoring from the right and Emma Wright turning at centre forward to narrow the margin to 9-7 at 3:43. Evgeniya Soboleva, so quiet on the scoring front this week, rifled in a seven-metre shot when needed for a critical three-goal difference. Canada went to a timeout and the ploy worked with Axelle Crevier driving in deep right at 0:43. The light was still burning for Canada to force a shootout. Russia took a timeout at 0:43 and Golovina, came well out of her cage to fire a shot, which hit the crossbar. Canada called a timeout at 0:34, but the resulting shot went over the crossbar and Russia had the bronze medal.

Canada had 11 more shots than Russia but could not convert extra-man attack. Such a pity for a team that showed such resilience and pluck in the earlier stages of the tournament. Russia’s performance augurs well for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

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United States of America made it gold medal Number 14 with a close 14-8 victory over Russia in a spirited final. Close? It was 9-8 three minutes into the final period before USA flicked the after-burner switch and blazed in five unanswered goals. It was like Hungary ran out of steam after a thrilling encounter that, like the bronze-medal match, had a North American team 3-0 up at the start. However, Hungary had the opportunities, but it was not to be.

USA captain Maggie Steffens scored four of the first seven goals — which earned her player-of-the-match accolades — including the first two. Hungary made it 3-2 on extra-man attack and counter, however, Paige Hauschild stretched the margin to two before quarter time. Greta Gurisatti, who scored Hungary’s first goal, netted a second, also on extra nearly four minutes into the second period. Rachel Fattal and Steffens converted extra attempts for 6-3 at 3:15, the final scoring of the half.

Goals were traded until 8-5 with Steffens and Madeline Musselman gaining their fourth and second. For Steffens, it was her 16th goal of the week. Makenzie Fischer converted extra from the top, her shot, which barred down, needed a VAR decision. Dora Leimeter reduced the deficit to two when she scored from the right and then followed orders after a timeout to have the match well poised at 9-7 heading into the final period.

“Tough physical battle. They’re well coached, great goalie, great centre, shooters. They’ve got it all. Luckily we pulled away there in the fourth quarter but both teams were very tired there at the end. We can improve everything. We’ll look forward to getting back to training and spending some time to dissect the film and make some corrections before we get to Tokyo.”
By Adam Krikorian (USA) — Head Coach

Hungarian captain Rita Keszthelyi opened the fourth at 5:01 from the top as the excluded player was returning to the pool, pushing her Athens tally to 19. At 9-8 and with the way both teams were playing, the result seemed in the balance. Fattal scored from the right in what became a runaway train that Hungary could not catch. It was the first of five unanswered goals that had Makenzie Fischer, Fattal with her 15th of the week, Alys Williams with her ninth and Musselman with her 18th. The latter statistic was amazing in itself as Musselman actually threw three goals in all six matches — a rare feat.  

Where was Hungary? Its attacks included hitting the bar twice, shooting wide and having goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson tip two away. One long attempt hit the left upright when Johnson was well out of her cage. Hungary had the chances only for lady luck to desert it when most needed. Keszthelyi was fouled out in the dying seconds and Musselman’s buzzer beater needed VAR to make sure it was shot in time.

“We’re really happy any time we can get a win, especially at the end of the game. Hungary is a great team. You could see it was a battle until the very end. We have a lot of respect for that team and to be able to get a win against them is huge.”
By Maggie Steffens (USA) — Captain

USA maintains its stranglehold on world women’s water polo and will take that form into the Olympics. Hungary can congratulate itself on a fine result considering it only won one match in the group stages, yet still charged to the final.

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