Netherlands defeated Olympic silver medallist Spain 12-11 in the final of the FINA Women’s Water Polo World League European qualifying finals at Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Spain today. The match was tied on no fewer than nine occasions with the winner coming at 2:40 before full time. Italy upset Hungary 10-9 after being two down three minutes into the last quarter, securing the third position and Greece fought off France 15-10 for fifth place in the classification.
TENERIFE, SPAIN —The final day of the competition was a non-event when it came to deciding who would go to the FINA Women's Water Polo World League Super Final later this year, but it was all about pride as some of the world’s leading nations went head to head. The fact that the Dutch overcame Spain and Italy upset Hungary was all in a day’s work for these superb athletes.
Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Hungary are the qualifiers for the Super Final and their progress via the FINA World Championships in June-July will be closely watched.
SPAIN 11 NETHERLANDS 12 — 1St-2ND CLASSIFICATION
The Netherlands beat Hungary with a front-setting victory, only allowing the Olympic bronze medallist four minutes in the lead and that was all over by midway in the third period. Nine times the teams levelled with the Netherlands only having to tie the match twice to Spain’s seven.
The Dutch-led 3-2 at the quarter, 6-5 at halftime and it was 9-9 at the final break. The Dutch went ahead three times and the final goal came via Sabrina van der Sloot 2:40 from time. Spain had a double-exclusion advantage but could not convert at the two-minute mark.
Van der Sloot scored twice in the closing quarter and secured the winner, but the whole team deserves recognition. Bente Rogge scored three goals in the first half but found herself on the end of a red card for the over-zealous defence at 1:47 in the third period. Bea Ortiz was again on the song for Spain with four goals, the last three all equalisers in the second half, including the 4:23 effort for 11-11. Team-mates Paula Leiton with three and Anna Espar with two also kept Spain in the picture.
The Dutch came back from 2-0 down to lead the first quarter; Leiton’s second heralded a 7-6 lead for Spain at 4:10 in the third and van der Sloot’s winner were all changes in the match.
Stats don’t lie
The Netherlands forged the victory on the extra-man-attack count with a powerful seven from 13 attempts compared to Spain’s two from seven.
No reputation will withstand a fired-up opposition and Netherlands showed today that it is one of the classiest teams on the planet. Spain rallied from 8-2 down against Hungary on Saturday, but it could not repeat the epic effort two days running, despite the parochial crowd.
HUNGARY 9 ITALY 10 — 3RD-4TH CLASSIFICIATION
It might not have been a world championship match, and it might not have mattered in the greater scheme of things, but it was a clash between close neighbours and tight rivals in the water polo world.
The Hungarian Olympic bronze medallists played second fiddle to Italy who led 2-1 before tying the first quarter 2-2; raced to 5-3 by halftime and 6-3 in the third period before Hungary made amends for some poor attacking by sending in four straight for the 7-6 advantage at 2:21.
Legendary veteran Roberta Bianconi (32) scored the equaliser with her second goal for 7-7 at the last break. Hungary looked the goods with two quick goals in the fourth, only to die and allow Italy to score the last three for victory.
Bianconi’s two goals — one for the 5-3 margin and then the equaliser — made her the rock. Dafne Bettini, unheralded on the international scene before Tenerife, made her mark with two goals and centre forward Valeria Palmieri claimed another two. Hungary’s Natasa Rybanska and Dorottya Szilagyi both scored twice.
Szilagyi’s consecutive goals from the left side drew Hungary's level and then took her team ahead in the third period after a dominating Italian effort. Bettini then spurred Italy to three straight goals with the Palmieri winner on extra from the right-post position in the dying stages.
Stats don’t lie
In this case, it was fairly even, like the match, when it came to extra-man attack. Italy sent in five from 12 and Hungary five from 13.
Hungary should have outplayed Italy. However, it didn’t and Italy claimed early bragging rights heading into Budapest 2022. Italy was tidier on the attack with fantastic passing sequences, zeroing in on the best shooting options.
FRANCE 10 GREECE 15 — 5TH & 6TH CLASSIFICATION
Greece shrugged off France for the fifth-placed classification — not a position it wished to fill on day one of the finals. Greece was lacklustre but controlled the match after a 5-2 opening quarter, increased only by one goal at halftime. The third period came alight as France pressured Greece all over the pool and added spice with four goals to Greece’s five — 11-7. Greece withstood the final French charge and closed the match as a comfortable five-goal victor.
Greek centre forward Eleni Xenaki was an unstoppable force with the first two goals of the match, the only goal of the second and another in the fourth, all from two metres. Louise Guillet (above) led her team by example with four goals, the first from deep right; the second from penalty; the third with a big slider from the top left and the fourth from the left in the fourth.
The opening two-goal burst did the early damage and at 7-2 soon after the start of the third quarter, the match was dead as a spectacle. With Greece at 11-6 two minutes from the final break, the result was beyond doubt, but France regrouped and two Ema Vernoux goals and a fourth from Guillet had the match nicely poised at 11-9 with 6:26 left on the clock. However, a fifth Xenaki turn at two metres had the match Greece’s way at 12-9 and Greece’s younger players nailed the final three goals.
Stats don’t lie
Greece had the better of the extra-man-attack statistics with five conversions from nine attempts. France managed just four of 12 attempts.
Greece was the better team on paper, the more experienced and it had to work against a French team delighting with 10 goals and defiance written all over its faces. Greece needs to re-focus for the FINA World Championships and for France it is another step closer to Paris 2024.