Group 1

United States of America 8 Netherlands 9

Netherlands and USA came to Athens as the class teams, having won their respective groups in Rotterdam the week before. However, Netherlands arrived with a clean sheet and USA with a loss to Spain. There was urgency in both teams to see who would be adjudged the best team so early in the season and this match did not disappoint.

USA eased to 2-1 after nearly five minutes before the Dutch converted three straight extra-man goals with two from Bente Rogge. Julia Bonaguidi scored both USA goals in the second quarter, albeit five minutes apart and after Netherlands went on a second three-goal heist. This gave Netherlands a 7-4 advantage at the turn. Bente Rogge and younger sister Lieke Rogge maintained the rage with 8-4 and 9-6 scores. Maddie Musselman scored her second of the quarter to close the margin to two at the final break.

The final period was all defence as Emily Ausmus was the only scorer, sending her second in from outside at 2:51 to close the scoring at 9-8. Both teams went to a timeout with Netherlands having the ball stolen soon after and USA having two shots saved in the final six seconds to give the victory to the Dutch.

Match heroes:
Bente Rogge, who was instrumental in the victory, along with her three goals, was best in pool. Musselman and Bonaguidi also scored three for USA.

Turning point:
The two three-goal bursts that took Netherlands to 4-2 and 7-3, setting up the victory.

Stats don’t lie:
Netherlands was more concise on extra-man attack with five from seven to USA’s five from 11. USA shot twice more and both teams converted their penalty fouls.

Bottom line:
These are the two best teams in the world currently and that showed through today. Don’t write off USA, as it is blending youngsters with the veterans and will be well honed by the time the finals come around and then the all-important World Aquatics Championships. Give a big hand to the Dutch, as it is not often that USA is trumped.

Italy 3 Hungary 13

Where was Italy? Hungary turned up and stunned Italy all around the pool, racing to a 3-0 lead that had the Setterosa on the back foot and little chance to grapple back into the match. The win gave the Magyars third spot in the competition and Italy fourth.

That 3-0 romp turned into 4-1 by the quarter break, advanced to a magnificent 10-2 by halftime, slowed to 11-2 by the fourth period and closed at 13-3. Italy had a more-than 10-minute hiatus after the first goal and more than 14 minutes until the third.

Hungary was business-like throughout and kept up the quality play of the tournament that gained four victories, a one-goal loss to Netherlands and a two-goal loss to USA. Italy was absent in all phases and only had three shots from past six metres, scored a penalty goal, one on extra and a lob shot.

Match heroes:
Boglarka Nezmely
was inspirational in goal for Hungary, gaining her first full match, allowing Alda Magyari to rest. The 19-year-old dragged down 10 shots that will inspire her to greater things in the future. Kata Hajdu topped the scoring with three goals from six attempts as eight Hungarians scored.

Turning point:
The opening three goals. Done and dusted.

Stats don’t lie:
Hungary shot 29 times to 20, took seven shots from past six metres, converted three from four on extra-man attack and denied Italy eight of its nine chances. The statistics have spoken.

Bottom line:
Hungary deservedly is one of the top three teams in the worlds and consistently shows that. Come medal time at the World Aquatics World Cup finals, the Aquatics World Championships and LEN European Championships, Hungary will be aiming for the top level. Italy will need to improve and do better than the 0-3 result from Athens and look to the first round where it beat Spain by four and narrowly went down to USA to draw on for future matches.

Group 2

Spain 18 Greece 17 in sudden-death penalty shootout (FT: 13-13. Pens: 5-4)

It may have been the second-group decider with not a lot at stake, but tell that to these two high-class teams. Greece was coming off a day-two shootout loss against Australia and Spain off a big score against China. This ended up a crazy shootout, as well, and again Greece was on the losing side.

The match was tied an incredible 12 times with Greece starting with two goals and Spain scoring the next three. Greece missed a penalty attempt and scored twice more to close the period 4-3 ahead. Spain won the second quarter 6-5 where all the numbers were tied. Interestingly, by the time Paula Leiton scored on extra from two metres for 6-6, she became the fourth Spaniard with the name of Paula to score in this match — Paula Crespie, Paula Camus and Paula Prats preceded her.

The exhaustive nature of the match slowed in the third as each scored a single goal. Spain took the lead twice, only for Greece to respond with the 11th Greek goal coming off a right-post tip in from Eleni Xenaki on extra-man attack. Eirini Ninou scored her fourth with a slider to send Greece 12-11 up. There was less than two minutes remaining. Nona Perez had her lob shot recognised by VAR sometime later and the clock was wound back to 1:15. Xenaki sent her team into raptures with another near-post score on extra at 0:33 for the possible winner. However, Spain went to a timeout and Ariadne Ruiz sent a cross-cage shot in for 13-13, four seconds from time, forcing the shootout.

This became something out of a horror movie as Spain missed the first two and Greece its second. Spain equalised at 15 and then Greece’s pair and Spain’s one failed to make the net, sending the match into sudden-death shootout. Spain succeeded with all three and Greece with the first two. Sadly, Vasiliki Plevritou’s final shot was saved, and Spain was the winner. Plevritou scored a penalty in regular time and again in the first rotation.

Match heroes:
was awarded the player-of-the-match trophy for her centre-forward play and three goals. Ninou ended with five goals for Greece, the same number as Spain’s Bea Ortiz.

Turning point:
Probably Spain’s cool manner in which it went about the timeout ploy for the equaliser. Otherwise, with all those levelled scores, no team overly dominated.

Stats don’t lie:
How about Spain’s perfect extra-man attack? Six from six! Unheard of to convert every opportunity. Greece converted six from 12. This was the biggest difference in the teams. Greece sent in its two penalty chances.

Bottom line:
Despite playing in the second tier, the win was there for pride and bragging rights. This was just another class match in such a tight competition. Bring on the finals!

China 7 Australia 12

Australia showed how capable it is with a clinical display over a staunch Chinese team that continued to improve today. Australia made it a second successive victory after the penalty-shootout win over Greece. It was there that Australia needed to get three points and another three today. If it had gained the six points, as it turned out, Greece gained a point in losing by penalty shootout later in the day and would have qualified ahead of Australia anyway. No use crying over spilt milk.

The first half was tight, Australia starting first, especially handy when Pascalle Casey wins all the swims. Jing Zhang equalised and sent in a penalty goal after a questionable call given even though the Aussie goalie had clearly won the ball unguarded. Amy Ridge scored her second to level off a short drive at 0:21. The Aussie Stingers built on that momentum and scored the first two goals of the second quarter before Zhang nailed twice more and Zewen Deng brought it to 6-5 behind by halftime.

Deng ripped in the first goal of the second half with a clever lob for 6-6. Abby Andrews needed her score from deep right verified by VAR as it spun on the line. Goals were traded to close the quarter with Ridge securing her third. Two goals early in the fourth period had Australia in front by three and consecutive goals inside the last three minutes — including an Abby Andrews penalty goal at 1:28 — sealed China’s fate and Australia’s success — 12-7. China was scoreless for the last 11 minutes.

Match heroes:
(pictured below) was named best in pool and said later that the ability to compete was what people must remember ahead of the World Aquatics Championships in Japan. Abby Andrews also scored three, Zhang was China’s best with four goals.

Turning point:
The first was Australia’s three goals over the first break and then the triple over the final break that broke the Chinese impetus.

Stats don’t lie:
Australia shot 37 times to China’s 28 so the extra-man stats — two from eight and Australia’s one from three — were not crucial. China scored two penalty goals and Australia one. However, the biggest stat was the seven steals to one that the Stingers made. This and the fact that eight players scored for Australia.

Bottom line:
China is gathering pace, skills and experience and truly back to where it was some years ago when it won the FINA World League crown and pressured for finals positions. Australia is also improving fast with combinations working and the pace picking up. To finish with two wins after a relatively poor showing in Rotterdam was most commendable.

Final Points

Group 1: Netherlands 15, USA 13, Hungary 12, Italy 6.
Group 2: Spain 13, Greece 8, Australia 5, China 0.