It was all about group positioning on the third day of the FINA World Women’s Junior Water Polo Championships in Netanya, Israel yesterday.
With the culmination of the group stage, the four group winners — Greece, Netherlands, host Israel and Russia — have earned the day off on Wednesday, leaving the second and third-ranked teams in each group battling for the other quarterfinal berths. The fourth-ranked teams will play classification 13-16 semifinals.
In Group A, Greece was untroubled in defeating Germany 23-3 and with it came group supremacy and the obligatory rest day. Greece sauntered through the first quarter 6-0, increased the margin to 11-1 at halftime and then went into the final eight minutes 18-2 up. Greek senior player Eirini Ninou topped the scoring with six goals.
Italy took out second place with a solid 26-7 margin over Slovakia with the main strike force being Giorgia Klatowsky with five goals.
In Group B, it came down to a consultation with the rule book to work out the tiebreak between Netherlands and Spain as they drew 5-5 on day two. It came down to the Dutch having to beat France by 11 goals to win the group and this it did, triumphing 22-6, but it did not come easy.
Although Netherlands, coached by the newly appointed senior coach Eva Doudesis — replacing the long-serving Arno Havenga — raced to 4-0, the quarter-time score was 6-4 and 7-5 (France claimed a VAR decision for 6-5) in the second before the Dutch stretched the margin to 12-6 at halftime.
By the final break the gap was nine goals (15-6), still two short of the target. The all-important 11th goal advantage came at 5:41 on extra-man attack, followed by two penalty strikes and a 14-goal margin at 3:38 that guaranteed the day off. France was stout in the first half, but could not buy a goal in the second half. Lola Moolhuijzen scored her fifth by early in the fourth and Juliette Dhalluin and Ema Vernoux did their best with three goals each for France.
Spain earlier made sure of its victory, defeating South Africa 16-4, but its winning margin was irrelevant as the group decision came from the result against the third-ranked team, not the fourth. Ariadna Ruiz and Cristina Nogue notched three goals each and South African Olympian Jordan Wedderburn scored twice.
In Group C, in front of a huge home crowd, Israel made it three straight with a 22-3 victory over winless Peru to take out the group and have a day off to focus on the quarterfinals. Israel has never played this level of water polo before, so to make the top eight is a remarkable achievement and will see the team play until the final day. Israel had nine scorers with Tahel Kurtsev and Alma Yaacobi netting five apiece. Peru’s best scorer was Rebeca Rodriguez with a pair.
In the other match, Serbia and Argentina were chasing second spot after a win each and it was Serbia who won the encounter 15-7 with a strong 5-1 opening quarter. Serbian Andrea Gasic top-scored with five goals, including a penalty shot, while Argentina’s Lucia Ruiz grabbed three, also including a penalty strike. Argentinian goalkeeper Nikolina Travar faced two penalty shots in 35 seconds in the third period, gallantly stopping one.
In Group D, Russia — champion in 2017 and 2019 — led from the front against Hungary, winning 16-10, gaining the quarterfinal position. Russia led 5-3, 9-5 and 13-9 at the breaks with head coach Sergey Markoch masterminding a result that could have been much closer, such was Hungary’s determination.
Hungary came back to two goals down twice in the third period before Russia went four ahead twice with captain Anastasia Panfilova scoring two of her three goals. Russia held Hungary scoreless for seven minutes in the final quarter for what became a 16-10 victory.
Russia’s Panfilova, Ekaterina Golubova (her third with six seconds left in the match) and Aleksandra Bogdanova scored three each and Hungary’s Panni Szegedi nailed three of her four goals in the second half.
In the earlier match, Brazil had to come from behind three times to outwit Uzbekistan 14-11. After a tied opener (2-2), Brazil won the next three periods by a single goal as Uzbekistan desperately tried to secure third spot, even leading by two midway through the third quarter. Leticia Belorio and Rebecca Moreira scored four each for Brazil and Madinabonu Shermatova fired in five for Uzbekistan, whose 11 goals were not enough to avoid the bottom-four classifications. There were no goals for the final five and a half minutes and Brazilian head coach Rafael Hall was relieved, although his shirt was drenched with sweat because of his poolside exertions.
Fourth-day action sees the fourth-ranked teams in the four groups contest the round of 13-16 semifinals — Slovakia-South Africa and Peru-Uzbekistan — while the teams ranked second and third in their groups will play the preliminary round with winners guaranteed quarterfinal berths. The group winners have the day off.
The tantalising preliminary square-offs have Italy against France, Spain facing Germany, Serbia and Brazil clashing, finishing with Hungary and Argentina.
Day 3 match results:
Group A: Greece 23 Germany 3 (6-0, 5-1, 7-1, 5-1), Slovakia 7 Italy 26 (1-6, 3-7, 2-7, 1-6).
Group B: South Africa 4 Spain 16 (1-4, 2-3, 0-3, 1-6), France 6 Netherlands 22 (4-6, 2-6, 0-3, 0-7).
Group C: Israel 22 Peru 3 (7-1, 3-0, 7-1, 5-1), Argentina 7 Serbia 15 (1-5, 3-5, 1-2, 2-3).
Group D: Brazil 14 Uzbekistan 11 (2-2, 6-5, 4-3, 2-1), Hungary 10 Russia 16 (3-5, 2-4, 4-4, 1-3).
Group A: Greece 6, Italy 4, Germany 2, Slovakia 0.
Group B: Netherlands 5, Spain 5, France 2, South Africa 0.
Group C: Israel 6, Serbia 4, Argentina 2, Peru 0.
Group D: Russia 6, Hungary 4, Brazil 2, Uzbekistan 0.