Classification 1-2 (Gold Medal)


Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

United States of America maintained its world dominance of women’s water polo with a fourth straight finals victory and second on the all-time medal list with Australia at 11 medals. However, USA has five crowns to three against Australia, which failed to qualify for this year’s finals — the first time in the event’s history. The Netherlands kept its historical run alive with a 12th final appearance, winning eight of those, mainly when the World Cup was the peak level for women’s water polo. It has 13 medals in total.

This was a match of two parts with both teams having 8-3 segments. USA was 8-3 ahead early in the second quarter, then the Dutch knuckled down and began their drive, going 8-3 for 11-11 at 1:54. USA started with the first two goals through skipper Maggie Steffens (above), leading 3-1 and then 5-2 at the break. Steffens scored a third as the slower-scoring period reached 7-3 at the long break.

Maddie Musselman began the third on extra and the USA was apparently surfing the victory wave. However, a tip-in goal from centre-forward Kitty Joustra began the Dutch resurgence and narrowed the margin to two before the USA closed the period at 10-7. Goals were traded at the top of the fourth before three Dutch goals — two from Maartje Keuning — levelled at 1:54. USA calmly went to a timeout and Rachel Fattal provided the conversion at 1:26.

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

The Netherlands had a timeout at 0:20, nearly lost the ball before regathering and passing around until captain Sabrina van der Sloot fired from wide right into the bottom corner, only for Amanda Longan to smother. It looked like it could have gone in, but the USA retained the ball and took out the gold medal.

The last time these two met was in Athens, Greece in the second leg of the qualifiers in April where the Dutch prevailed 9-8 after holding a 7-3 advantage just before halftime.

Match heroes:
Longan was in awesome form with 15 saves and deservedly was named best goalkeeper of the tournament and captain Steffens gained her fourth World Cup crown with her three goals. Keuning and Simone van de Kraats sent in three apiece for the Dutch.

Turning point:
First, the USA shifted from 3-2 to 6-2. Then the Netherlands’ 8-3 charge to 11-11 inside the final two minutes.

Stats don’t lie:
The biggest statistic was USA’s six from eight on an extra-man attack. The Netherlands missed both chances but made sure of two penalty goals to none. Netherlands shot an incredible 37 times to 25, making USA goalkeeper Longan (above) work overtime with a fantastic 15 saves.

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Bottom line:
The Netherlands maintains its ranking as the No 1 World Cup nation with eight golds, four silvers and one bronze and will be hoping this experience will bode well for the upcoming World Aquatics Championships. The USA just needs to do what it does best and that is winning crucial matches. However, there is a posse of pretenders waiting to shoot down the USA in Fukuoka.

What They Said

Adam Krikorian (USA) – Head Coach/Coach of the Tournament

Did you do anything differently before the match started that let you jump out to such a dominant start? And what changed during the second half?
“I thought we played very well in the first half by playing very clean, intelligent, and we avoided putting ourselves in very compromising positions. Most importantly, we really executed our man-up situations that gave us a good lead early in the game. The beginning of the second half, we slipped mentally. We struggled with transition defence, defending their centres, and communicating with one another by messing up our planned match-ups. It seemed like the Netherlands were swimming downhill in the second half and there seemed to be very little we could do about it.

“However, I’m incredibly proud of the defensive stops we made towards the end of the game. We made two different seven-versus-six stops at the end of the third and fourth quarters, which is something we haven’t practised as a team. In some ways like that, we were unprepared, but this team showed the will to win and is why the match ended with us on top.”

Maggie Steffens (USA) – Captain/Player of the Match

What made you so successful today?
“One thing we talk about as a team is maintaining a gold standard, regardless of how the match is going. That attitude and culture is what made us so successful today, especially in the younger women who played big roles and stepped up in our win today, despite having limited experience at this stage.”

What was said in the pool during the second half to halt the Netherlands' comeback?
“Today was the tale of two halves. We definitely lost some concentration going into that third quarter. In the first half, we were very focused on our team defence and as the second half began, we started to let up there. You can’t do that against the Netherlands because they have some of the best players and shooters in the world who will capitalise on your mistakes as they did today. For us, it was about refocusing our mentality and effort back to our team defence during the fourth quarter and ultimately gave us the win today.”

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Evangelos Doudesis (NED) – Head Coach

What happened such that the USA was able to jump to such an early lead and what did you do in order to take control of the pace of the match?
“The US started very fast and they really exploited their chances while we were unable to keep up with that pace of the match. We made unneeded mistakes on defence that gave up a lot of exclusions and goals. Later on, we stayed focused and concentrated, which gave us more confidence to play.

“The biggest characteristic of this team is their mental strength and character. Today they proved that they can play anywhere and with any team. No matter what the score is, they will always play until the last minute like they did today.”

Sabrina van der Sloot (NED) – Captain

What changed in the second half that allowed you to make the comeback you did?
“I think we started to become more aggressive on the offence, which let us find the goal. In the beginning, we had problems with shooting and finishing our opportunities. Because we were able to score more, we also gained confidence in our defence and ability to play with the US team.”

Classification 3-4 (Bronze Medal)


Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

World League champion Spain collected its second World Cup bronze medal with a stunning performance against Hungary. Spain won its other medal in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia in 2014. Spain was never headed and quickly responded to Hungary’s defiance in equalising at five and six early in the second quarter.

Spain led 5-4 at the first break, turned with an 11-9 margin, won the third period 4-2 and lost the last 4-3. Spain had eight players make the sheet and its dominance on action goals was amazing, as was Hungary’s impressive extra-man conversion rate.

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

At 6-6 in the second period, Spain sent in three unanswered goals for a three-goal margin, although Hungary dragged it back to one through a Greta Gurisatti penalty goal. Spain had its first goal in the final period disallowed by VAR and Hungarian captain Rita Keszthelyi converted extra — again — for 11-10. Anni Espar and captain Pili Pena, the oldest player here at 38, collected her second, with Bea Ortiz and Espar stretching the margin to five. Krisztina Garda drilled her fourth to close the period at 15-11.

Spain took the match out to four goals twice in the final quarter with Garda closing the scoring from the penalty line. Hungary took a timeout with six seconds left and Spanish head coach Miki Oca gained a red card before a long “discussion” with the referee.

Match heroes:
Espar was named best in water with five goals for Spain, four on action. She was later confirmed as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Garda finished with six goals for Hungary including one on the counter at her last on penalty.

Turning point:
Spain gained its third three-goal margin midway through the second quarter.

Stats don’t lie:
Hungary won two of the major stats, especially with its incredible 11 from 13 on an extra-man attack that has probably not been matched anywhere in the world for some time, especially at this level. Spain responded with five from 10. Hungary also gained two penalty goals, meaning it only scored two action goals compared to Spain’s 13.

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Bottom line:
Extra-man goals are great, but all-round play is probably better. The team that scores the most goals on six on five normally come out trumps, but not in this case. Hungary was fifth in 2014 and has one gold, one silver and three bronzes at this level.

What They Said

Miguel Oca (ESP) — Head Coach

What does this World Cup mean to the Spanish team and what are the last steps in preparation for Fukuoka?
“Well ,this was a very important tournament as preparation for the World Championships and we played three games against very good teams like Italy, Netherlands, and Hungary. Now we will go back to Spain and do 10 days of training in Barcelona before travelling to Japan for five days of training with Japan and Australia.”

Anni Espar (ESP) — Player of the Tournament (Five Goals)

What did you change before the game today that allowed you to start so strongly and control the game from the first whistle?
“We obviously wanted to finish the tournament strong. In my opinion, it wasn’t our best match either because we didn’t play very good defence, but at least we came out with the win. Obviously, we were all very upset after yesterday, so we wanted to partially fix that by still going home with a medal.”

What do you think you did well today that helped prepare you for the World Championships?
“Compared to yesterday, our offence and outside shooting was much better as we were able to score 18 goals. We did a great job beating blocks and reading where the goalie was not positioned. Now we have a couple of weeks to prepare mentally and physically for Fukuoka and we plan to make the most of them.”

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Attila Biro (HUN) — Head Coach

What do you think you could’ve changed today in order to be victorious?
“Spain absolutely deserved to win that match because our defence did not work well in the first three quarters. We finally found a way to play good defence in the fourth quarter, but by then it was too late. We have to work on our defence if we want to win big games at this level.”

What do you want to take from this match and tournament to prepare for Fukuoka?
“These three matches were very useful for our team and proved to our team that if we are strong in our attack, we are one of the best teams in the world. However, if we do not play good defence, we will lose games because many of these teams also have a strong offence.”

Kata Hajdu (HUN) — Three Goals

How does it feel to be a young player on this team and scoring three goals?
“My teammates are very supportive and I’m very thankful to be a member of this team I’ve learned so many things from my older teammates. Krizstina (Garda)has helped me with my shooting a lot and I’m lucky to be as successful as I was today. I hope to continue to learn from them and play well for this team during the World Championships.”

What do you need to do better in preparation for Fukuoka?
“We definitely need to improve our defence because we allowed too many goals. One thing is that we don’t have enough blocks in front of the cage, which gave Spain a lot of scoring chances. If we can learn and practise better blocking, we will improve our defence and help our goalie a lot.”

Classification 5-6


Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Greece needed an extra-man goal in the last two seconds to claim victory over Italy. It came after an enthralling match in which the scores were tied at one, two, three, four, six, seven, eight and nine.

Italy was never out of it, taking the lead five times and even led 6-4 at halftime. Greece led four times. The first period was tied at three and Italy went 4-3 ahead twice! The first time its goal was disallowed by VAR as being shot after the buzzer and then Sofia Giustini made sure of the score on the counter a minute later. Greece levelled and Italy scored from the right and on penalty for 6-4 at halftime.

Three consecutive goals by Greece changed the nature of the match, gave enthusiasm and more confidence to Greece. It was Silvia Avegno who made it 7-7 before the final break and Claudia Marletta pushed Italy up on the first attack in the fourth. Eleni Xenaki caught the ball, turned and scored at two metres for 8-8 and Eirini Ninou gave Greece the edge after a failed Italian timeout ploy.

The victory was gained when Greece gained the extra, passed many times around the arc and finally gave it to deep left, snapping the ball across to the left-handed Xenaki to steer into a goal with two seconds left on the clock. An Italian timeout and a shot by the goalkeeper were not successful.

Match heroes:
Ioanna Stamatopoulou was exceptional in goal for Greece with a magnificent 16 saves in what was a goalkeeping match as Italy’s Caterina Bancelli pulled in 11 saves. Xenaki finished with four goals for Greece and Marletta grabbed three for Italy.

Turning point:
Greece turned a 6-4 halftime deficit into a 7-6 lead with Xenaki and two Vasiliki Plevritou goals. And, of course, Xenaki’s extra-man conversion to win the match.

Stats don’t lie:
Greece had the edge in the stats with 33-30 in shooting; three from five on an extra-man attack to Italy’s three from eight. However, it did miss one of its two penalty attempts while Italy nailed its one.

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Bottom line:
These teams are hard to separate and they will come back better in the World Aquatics Championships, which start in two weeks’ time. Greece’s last appearance was in 2010 when it finished seventh. Italy last contested the World Cup in 2006 when it lost to Australia in the final.

What They Said
Alexia Kammenou (GRE) – Head Coach

What did you say at halftime that allowed you to dominate the second half?
“We played much better on the defence. Our defence worked much better together and we had patience in our offence. We know that we have very good centre forwards, so we wanted to focus on entering the ball and win the exclusion ratio. I think in the last moment of the match, they were very concentrated and did exactly what I asked them to do in the last six on five won us the match. I know that we were very tired and not in the best shape, but I’m very happy we came back and won the match.”

What do you want to take from this tournament?
“Most importantly, we need to be more concentrated on the defence. We are a defensive team with a lot of talent on the offence, but if we give up too many goals, we will not be able to succeed at the World Championships. We have been away from home for a very long time, but I will give my girls time to rest when we go home and then continue our training for Fukuoka.”

Eleni Xenaki (GRE) — Player of the Match (Four Goals)

How does it feel to end the tournament with a win and be a major reason for that win?
“It was a very good game. Italy is a team that we will face in the World Championships and I’m very happy for my team and myself. We weren’t feeling very good during this tournament, so it is a very good thing for our confidence to win this match and go into the World Championships up on Italy.”

What do you need to improve on before Fukuoka?
“I think we have a lot of work left to do, especially in our six-on-five offence and defence. We do have a lot of time before we have to play again, so by then we will be in the best shape and ready to play.”

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Carlo Silipo (ITA) – Head Coach

What adjustments could you have made during the second half to change the outcome?
“Most importantly, we needed to win the number of exclusions. In the first half, we earned more exclusions that we were able to score on. In the second half, we gave up too many exclusions and they were able to score those opportunities and take control of the match. Overall, they won in the extra man scenarios.”

What do you want to use from this tournament to succeed in Fukuoka?
“This World Cup has been all part of our preparation for Fukuoka. I think that we must work on our six-on-five offence and defence, especially after today. We have many other things to work on before then that we will work on as well.”

Dafne Bettini (ITA) — Two Goals

What was the difference between the first and second half?
“Greece changed the way that they defended us. They switched from a zone to a press and we struggled a lot to play against the press. We also did not adjust to the referees and gave up too many six-on-five chances to Greece. Now we must continue our training, so we can play better at the World Championships and be able to adjust to whatever defence teams play.”

What do you want to take from this tournament into Fukuoka?
“I think this weekend was a good experience for playing against strong teams like Spain and Greece. This made it very good training for Fukuoka because we will see many of these teams again there and we want to succeed, so we can earn a ticket to Paris.”

Classification 7-8


Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Israel achieved what it set out to do in Long Beach and that was to beat New Zealand for seventh place and gain a historic first victory at a World Cup finals series. It was achieved with caution, deliberate plays and awesome player-down defence.

New Zealand opened the scoring, trailed by one, levelled, trailed and scored twice for the 4-3 lead only for Israel to strike back on the counter when captain Shunit Strugo grabbed her second on the counter. The first two goals of the second quarter set up a 6-4 differential that became the norm as halftime was 8-6 and the final break 11-9.

Alma Yaacobi scored three consecutive goals as Israel reached 9-7. New Zealand’s ninth goal needed a VAR decision, giving Bernadette Doyle her second strike off a spectacular, one-pass, lob shot on the counter. The long pass caught Doyle at six metres and she instinctively lobbed.

Emmerson Houghton opened the final quarter from the left and Gabrielle Milicich netted her first goal of the tournament from the right side of the pool at 3:56 for the first tied score since the first quarter. Inside the final minute,  Israel charged up the pool with Veronika Kordonskaia driving close, accepting the pass unguarded and scored the winner at 0:46. A later timeout by New Zealand led to a shot scooting wide left in the final seconds. Israel had a piece of history.

Match heroes:
Yaacobi, with her three centre-forward goals, a fourth on an extra-man attack and a penalty goal for a match-high five goals. Goalkeeper Aylet Peres had nine saves to her credit. Houghton was the best for the Kiwis with four goals.

Turning point:
Coming from 4-3 behind to lead 6-4 over the quarter-time break. It was the advantage that New Zealand could not surpass, only levelling the once in the final quarter.\

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Stats don’t lie:
These statistics tell the story as New Zealand has been excellent in getting kick outs, but struggled on conversions. In this match, it converted just one from nine after also having the edge on shots at 32-27. Israel converted two from three and missed its first attempt at a penalty and scored the second.

Bottom line:
Both teams would have reaped plenty of information ahead of the World Aquatics Championships next month. It was Israel’s first visit to the World Cup and New Zealand was seventh in Surgut, Russia in 2018.  

What They Said

Dimitros Mavrotas (ISR) – Head Coach 

How did it feel to secure the win so late in the match?
“It was frustrating to give up so many goals after being ahead for most of the match. For me, the beginning of the fourth quarter was not good because we lost our concentration and played our attack faster than we needed to play. At the end, we had the confidence to not call a timeout and allow Veronika Kordonskaia to score the winning goal.”

“I think that the match was a little stressful for the girls because it was the match that we needed to win, but in the end, we got to celebrate our seventh-place victory. We have a very big target in front of us at the World Championships and we are looking forward to it.”

What do you want to take away from this match?
“First of all, I want to keep our team spirit that will continue to build after this tournament. As well, we saw that although we are a little far behind these teams, we need to play these kinds of matches to improve ourselves. We are going to try and play with the same spirit and more energy in Fukuoka.”

Shunit Strugo (ISR) – Captain (Three Goals)

What are your thoughts, especially about the fourth quarter?
“The match was very stressful. We hoped to increase the goal difference even more, but New Zealand played very well and stopped us. However, it made the win even sweeter that we succeeded in the last minute to score and end this tournament with a win.”

How does this win today affect your team’s mentality?
“First of all, it means a lot for us to be here and finish in seventh place. We are looking forward to the World Championships and this was great preparation for us to play against the best teams in the world. I hope that we keep this up and can play even better in the World Championships now that we are more confident in what we can do.”

Image Source: Catharyn Haynes/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Angie Winstanley-Smith (NZL) – Head Coach

How did you feel coming back to level the match in the fourth quarter?
“High-pressure moments are something that you learn to manage and today we showed character by coming back. We had a huge number of opportunities during the fourth quarter to try and win the game, but Israel did a great job capitalising on counter-attacks and their offensive chances. For us, we need to get used to competing at this intensity because we’ve only recently played in matches where we are down by 10 or up by 10. By increasing the number of matches we play like today, we can improve our play in these kinds of situations.”

What do you need to do before Fukuoka?
“We are definitely going to work on our finishing and become more aggressive towards attacking the goal. Today the defence was good and the girls did everything that I asked them to do. It’s just about maintaining composure throughout the game and becoming more disciplined on offence.”

Emmerson Houghton (NZL) – Four Goals

What could have been done differently to change the outcome of this match?
“I think we could have improved our discipline and played together as a team more by making the extra pass. We did struggle to see the extra pass, which would have helped us offensively. Because we haven’t spent a lot of time playing together, more matches and opportunities will help us improve and gel together.

What did you do well today?
“I think our six on five was all right, but we need to practise it a lot more so we can score on all of those opportunities. By competing at these top levels, we need to be more physical with some of these teams. There are plenty of other positives for us to take from this tournament that we will continue to get better at.”

Final Rankings

  1. United States of America
  2. Netherlands
  3. Spain
  4. Hungary
  5. Greece
  6. Italy
  7. Israel
  8. New Zealand


Most Valuable Player:
Anni Espar (ESP)

Best Goalkeeper:
Amanda Longan (USA)

Player of the Final:
Maggie Steffens (USA)

Coach of the Tournament:
Adam Krikorian (USA)