Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee Member

The US women team continued its golden run in Rio, since winning the 2012 Olympic Games they clinched all but one titles on offer (missing the 2013 Worlds). Here they won six out of six matches: after a relatively tight first half they turned the final into a one-sided contest as well. Italy returned to the podium after 2004, while Russia is back after 2000, since they beat Hungary in a thrilling bronze medal match: they equalised in the very last second and won in the 7th round of the penalty shootout.

Final

Game 4, 16.30: United States v Italy 12-5 (4-1, 1-2, 4-1, 3-1)

Referees: Adrian Alexandrescu (ROU), Xevi Buch (ESP)

USA: Ashleigh Johnson, Madeline Musselman 1, Melissa Seidemann 1, Rachel Fattal 2, KK Clark, Maggie Steffens 1, Courtney Matthewson 1, Kiley Neushul 3, Aria Fischer, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Makenzie Fischer 2, Kami Craig 1, Sami Hill (GK). Head coach: Adam Krikorian

ITALY: Giulia Gorlero, Chiara Tabani, Arianna Garibotti, Elisa Queirolo, Federica Radicchi 2, Rosaria Aiello, Tania di Mario 1, Roberta Bianconi 1, Giulia Emmolo 1, Francesca Pomeri, Aleksandra Pomeri, Aleksandra Cotti, Teresa Frassinetti, Laura Teani (GK). Head coach: Fabio Conti

Extramen

USA: 0 for 2

Italy: 0 for 3

Penalties

USA: 1 for 1

Italy: 0 for 1

The US team is too good to be defeated. They are so superior to the entire field that it’s simply hard to see them losing any match in the near future. Once in a while they go down, but never in the knockout phase. The last time they lost a game in the second part of a championship dates back to 2013, when Spain beat them in the quarters in home soil in Barcelona. Since then: USA all the way. The last time they lost a match at the majors happened last summer in Kazan – Italy caught them in the prelims. Whom they met in the current Olympic final.

Well, that was then – here the Setterosa tried to keep up for a while but it was a constant uphill battle against a brilliant team which is capable of producing the highest level both in defence and in offence. There is not a single field in the stats where they can be bettered.

Again, it was a game requiring 100 percent from the opponent in order to stay in the match as long as possible – and for a while the Italians managed to convert their chances. Though they were 1-4 down after eight minutes as the Americans scored twice from action in the last minute (in 49 seconds), Federica Radicchi pulled one back and even if Rachel Fattal’s pinpoint shot found the back of the net for 5-3, that was the only US goal in this period. A rather rare scenario, a single goal from the title-holder in eight minutes – thanks to the fine defensive work of the Italians and the unexpected tightness of the US girls. Roberta Bianconi’s fine counter-attack goal promised an exciting second half as it began at 5-3.

What came instead was the usual rolling of the Americans. Three great action goals here (long distance from Fattal, after a nice combination by Neushull, a counter finished by Seidemann), a killed man-up and a saved penalty here – with 2:42 to go it was 8-3 and even the Italian bench was aware that the top of the podium was already booked at this stage. The US girls kept up playing on this level, showing respect towards their rivals, so the Italians couldn’t get any closer. Their defence was tremendous, they held the two top Italian shooters, Bianconi and Tania di Mario on 2 for 15 combined, while they outmaneuvered them in offence, scoring all but one of their goals from action (the fight wasn’t that sharp, as if everyone knew what would be the outcome – only 6 major fouls were recorded).

Some more spectacular goals came in the last period, finally di Mario also managed to send a wonderful shot to the top right corner, a fitting farewell from a fantastic player, who had already been member of the 2004 gold medal winning team and perhaps at the age 37 she doesn’t plan to complete another Olympic journey (though never say never, see Michael Phelps). She added an Olympic silver to her tally, a great result for the Italian water polo (the only nation having its teams in the medal round of both the men’s and women’s tournaments). Though this time they had to watch as the US girls were celebrating their second straight Olympic win and the fifth straight Olympic medal (in as many appearances at the Games). It was another fine win for a great team, arguably the greatest ever in the history of women’s water polo.


 

Adam Krikorian, the head coach with their players – he has become the most successful women's water polo coach ever with this second Olympic title - Credit: G. Scala / Deepbluemedia

Adam Krikorian, head coach, USA:

(On his emotions nearing the end of the game after the death of his brother before the tournament) "It was hitting me pretty hard. I was thinking about my brother and about how hard this journey has been. It would have been very selfish of me to let what happened to me personally effect this group. These girls have worked so hard for four years and some have worked their entire lives for this moment.

"Who am I, regardless of what happened to my family, to ruin that for them. It was very important that I stayed focused. I realised it's not about me, it's about the team."

"Putting all gold medals around my neck means my neck hurts for a few seconds. Honestly though it means a ton, no doubt. I'm not going to say that it doesn't make your heart warm. I will say though that it's the daily interaction and the relationships I have with this team means more to me than any medal."

"That was my wife. I told her not to come down here but we were at practice yesterday and I was walking towards the pool by myself and all of a sudden I hear my name being shouted. I looked over and my first thought was 'who's this good looking woman calling my name?'

"She came a little closer and I realised it was my wife. She flew in to be here with me for the last two days and that was a really emotional moment."

Maggie Steffens, captain, USA:

"These are strong, inspiring women. Definitely not kids. They may have come in similar to how I was last squad as just a little pup trying to learn and soak in all the advice and experience from the older girls. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter your age, it doesn't matter how many Olympics you have been to, we are here to play and play for one another. They showed that throughout the games. We had such a threat no matter who was in the water. It didn't matter who was defending, or who was in centre, or who was scoring goals, somebody else was going to do it the next game or continue doing it."

"Our coach does a good job of making sure that we remember you're only as good as your next game. It doesn't matter what happened the day before, it doesn't matter what happened four years prior. It matters what you do right now."

Fabio Conti, head coach, Italy:

"It was a miracle for us to arrive in the final and to arrive in the final was five miracles. It was a perfect tournament for us. We had five great matches and we reached the Olympic final. That was our dream but USA are on another level. We tried to stay in the match and gave all our strength, so we have nothing to cry for.

"We have to remember that strong teams like Australia, Spain and Hungary all finished behind us. We were not stronger than them but we played better than those three."

Tania di Mario, captain, Italy:

"We will go home with a heavier suitcase. Winning silver is very important as this is worth gold to us. This is the beginning of a bright new future for this team and to win silver is an extraordinary accomplishment. We deserved it as we played every match here like a final."

"I will be retiring but I am OK with that. Playing for the national team has been a wonderful, emotional experience but I am turning the page now and I will start a new life. I must learn to do other things and maybe I would like to be a water polo coach.

"My teammates have given me the best leaving present. Before the final I just told myself to enjoy it because it is my last. We are friends, sisters and we always hold each others' hands before each match and I am sure they will continue to do that in the future."

Chiara Tabani, player, Italy:

"We have the silver so we are happy as we could have nothing. We kept trying to win until the very end in the final but USA were too strong for us. Their shooting was excellent and their goalkeeper was strong too. They all pressed us hard and that made it very difficult for us."

 

Bronze medal match

Game 2, 11.20: Hungary v Russia 12-12 (3-3, 3-4, 3-1, 3-4) – pen: 6-7

Referees: Diana Dutilh-Dumas (NED), Filippo Gomez (ITA)

HUNGARY: Edinga Gangl, Dora Czigany 1, Dora Antal 2, Hanna Kisteleki 1, Gabriella Szucs 1, Orsolya Takacs, Anna Illes 2, Rita Keszthelyi 2, Ildiko Toth, Barbara Bujka 3, Dora Csabai, Krisztina Garda, Orsolya Kaso (GK). Head coach: Attila Biro

RUSSIA: Anna Listyukhina, Nadezhda Glyzina 5, Ekaterina Prokofyeva 1, Elvina Karimova 1, Maria Borisova, Olga Gorbunova, Ekaterina Lisunova 2, Anastasia Simanovich 1, Anna Timofeeva 1, Evgeniia Soboleva, Evgeniya Ivanova, Anna Grineva 1, Anna Karnaukh (GK). Head coach: Aleksandr Gaidukov

Extramen

Hungary: 4 for 12

Russia: 5 for 11

Penalties

Hungary: 2 for 2

Russia: none

Winning bronze medal matches at the Olympic Games is something the Hungarian women team will consider a mount to climb in the future. In fact, they never lost one in the regular time but this was the third time they left the pool empty-handed. In 2008 they lost to Australia in the penalty shootout. Four years ago in London they met the Aussies once more and lost again, in extra-time. And now they clashed with the Russians and went down in the shootout. They’ve been never so close to step onto the podium as here – with 0:01 minutes to go they were the bronze medallist but the very last second saw Anna Simanovich smashing the ball to the net from close range in a 6 on 5, just beating the buzzer and saving the match to the shootout. This was the way the Russians booked their place in Rio: at the qualifying tourney in Gouda they scored with 4.4 seconds left from the crucial quarters and won the shootout against Greece. Water polo slang calls the shootout Russian roulette – quite understandably after all...

The game was thrilling right from the beginning, a tough physical contest which also offered the beauties of the sport. The lead was constantly changing in the first eight minutes but it ended 3-3. This went on in the second, after 4-3 down the Hungarians netted two but the Russians also responded with a double for 5-6 and kept the lead until half-time (6-7). 

Russia had an extra to go two up but Orsolya Kaso delivered a save and Barbara Bujka converted a penalty at the other end. Ekaterina Lisunova put away a 6 on 5 but Anna Illes was also on target after collecting a rebound. Russia missed another man-up while Dora Antal was merciless in a 6 on 4, to complete a fine 1-3 period for Hungary (8-9).

Nadezhda Glyzina levelled the score early in the fourth, she was really on fire from the right wing, soon after a saved shot in a 6 on 5 she made an attempt after the corner-throw and made it. However, the Magyars marched on, Illes scored from an extra and 52 second later Dora Czigany extended the gap for two for the first time in the match at 11-9. And Hungary had a man-up for a +3 lead but a 2m violation cost them the opportunity (for the second time in the game). After that luck changed sides, even though the Magyars killed a Russian man-up, a possession later Ekaterina Prokofyeva was fortunate enough to have the ball in front of her nose after it bounced back from the post so she could bring her team closer. The woodwork saved them at Keszthelyi’s shot in a man-up and Glyzina blasted her 5th goal from the wing for 11-11 with 1:28 to go. A fine drive ended in a penalty on the other end just seconds later and Keszthelyi buried the shot for 12-11, with 1:11 remaining on the clock. Prokofyeva’s lob fell onto the post with 46 seconds left, Hungary called a time-out at 0:32 but just wished to keep the ball. The Russians got it back at 0:16, earned a man-up at 0:06, it was time for a foul or two, but Simanovich had some room in front of the goal, got the pass and put the ball away even if two defenders tried to block her.

The shootout was a real thriller. Hungary brought in the reserve goalie, Edina Gangl but she couldn’t touch the shots (the starting goalie came back in the 6th round), but the same happened at the other end with Anna Karnaukh. The first 10+2 shots were buried, then Lisunova made it in the 7th round, but Hanna Kisteleki couldn’t withstand the pressure and her ball was stopped by Karnaukh – and it was over.

While the Hungarian men earned more medals than any other nation in the game’s history (though here they are out of the hunt), the women, European champions this January, are yet to clinch their first ever Olympic medal as they finished 4th on the third straight occasion. On the other end the Russians even tossed their coach to the pool as if they had won the tourney – and they were right: the last time they earned a medal at the major tournaments dates back to 2013 (a silver from the World League, at the Worlds to 2011) and this is their first podium finish at the Games after they came third in the inaugural women’s tourney in Sydney 2000.


 

Back to the Olympic podium, after 16 years: the joy of the Russians

Anna Simanovich, player, Russia:

"It felt like only our mums and dads believed in us. We were angry that nobody thought we could do it so we went out there and won. Winning the bronze it’s like a bomb! I don't really know how to express myself fully right now but it's really cool."

"We prepared for this type of situation during training. We would have penalty shootout sessions and the girls would stand on the side and shout, scream and whistle, so nothing could distract us during the game. We wanted to be ready because we knew it was a possibility."

Andrei Belofastov, assistant coach, Russia:

“We enjoyed a great day today, we have built our attacks well and we were really good at the man-up situation. Still, luck was on our side to save this game to a shootout, though I wouldn’t say we didn’t deserve this win. In fact, we beat a pretty strong Hungarian team which should have played the final.”

Attila Biro, head coach, Hungary:

“The Russian team was getting better game by game and they demonstrated good play against Spain. Even in the semifinal against Italy. So we knew that they have a much better team than was in Belgrade at the European champs. So we knew that it would be a tough game."

"Our defence didn't work that well and that's why this game has gone. We couldn’t neutralize Glyzina at the right wing even we tried to prepare for her, still, she netted five goals. I thought that in the penalty shooutout our goalies could stop at least one shot. But they were unable to do so."

"We are happy we belong to the top four sides here at the Olympic Games but we feel disappointment because we felt the medal in our hand but it's not there. I don't have any regrets because we did everything in the preparations and here."

"Nothing, but maybe tomorrow or tonight we have a team talk. We can be proud because we are in the first four teams in the Olympic Games and it's not a bad result. But I know every one of them is disappointed like me, but we have to keep going. Next year will be the world championship in Budapest (Hungary) and we have to get a little bit better result than now. We have to take the medal next year."

 

For places 5-6

Game 3, 15.10: Australia v Spain 10-12 (5-4, 2-3, 1-3, 2-2)

Referees: Marie-Claude Deslieres (CAN), Sergey Naumov (RUS)

AUSTRALIA: Kelsey Wakefield, Gemma Beadsworth, Hannah Buckling 3, Holly Lincoln-Smith, Keesja Gofers, Bronwen Knox, Rowie Webster 2, Glencora McGhie 1, Zoe Arancini 1, Ash Southern 1, Isobel Bishop, Nicola Zagame 2, Lea Yanitsas (GK). Head coach: Greg McFadden

SPAIN: Laura Ester, Marta Bach, Anna Espar 1, Beatriz Ortiz 1, Matilde Ortiz, Paula Leiton, Clara Espar, Pilar Pena, Judith Forca 1, Roser Tarrago 7, Maica Garcia 2, Laura Lopez, Patricia Herrera (GK). Head coach: Miguel Oca

Extramen

Australia: 4 for

Spain: for 10

Penalties:

Australia: 1 for 2

Spain: 2 for 2

When you have a player who enjoys one of the finest days of her career, your job is to ensure that the others ensure a fine playing environment for her to deliver. This is what the Spaniards did, recognising that one of their greats, Roser Tarrago could shoot goals from all angles and all kind of situations. She stopped at 7, the most in any game of the current tournament, men and women included.

During the first half the Aussies were in front, they led 5-4 after an action-pack opening period, had a two-goal advantage deep in the second at 7-5 but Tarrago and centre-forward Maica Garcia brought them back to even. The trend began to change towards the end of the third, after 8-8 Tarrago converted a penalty while Ash Southern’s missed it at the other end (it was saved by Laura Esther). And from the very next attack one more penalty came, just 9 seconds before the end of the third, Tarrago buried that one as well, so instead of 9-9, Spain led 8-10.

The Aussies pulled one back in the fourth, then missed a 6 on 5 to go even, while Tarrago, who else?, did the damage from a 6 on 5 again for 9-11. And the scenario remained the same: a missed Aussie man-up, then a Spanish goal, this time from Beatriz Ortiz for 9-12, with just 2:22 left – from this point there was no way back for Australia. 

 

For places 7-8

Game 1, 10.00: Brazil v China 5-10 (2-2, 0-2, 0-2, 3-4)

Referees: Daniel Flahive (AUS), Nenad Peris (CRO)

BRAZIL: Tess Oliveira, Diana Abla, Marina Zablith, Marina Canetti, Lucianne Barroncas, Izabella Chiappini 3, Amanda Oliveira 2, Luiza Carvalho, Camila Pedrosa, Viviane Bahia, Mariane Duarte, Gabriela Mantellato, Victoria Chamorro. Head coach: Patrick Oaten

CHINA: Yang Jun, Ma Huanhuan 2, Mei Xiaohan 1, Xiong Dunham, Niu Guannan, Sun Yating 1, Song Donglun 1, Zhang Cong 1, Zhao Zihan 2, Zhang Weiwei, Wang Xinyan 2, Zhang Jing, Peng Lin (GK). Head coach: Rick Azevedo

BRA vs CHN ©Satiro Sodré / FINA

Extramen

Brazil: 1 for 3

China: 2 for 7

Penalties

Brazil: none

China: 1 for 1

The first win was at stake for both teams as they lost all five games en route to this one, staged on the last day of the women’s competition. After a balanced opening period where Brazil took the lead twice, the Chinese took over the control in the second period, scored twice in 62 seconds in the middle of the quarter while the hosts struggled in offence. This continued in the third, again, two Chinese goals, an extra and a counter, while the Brazilians were unable to send the ball home. They were shut out for 19:14 minutes before netting one for 3-6 but the Chinese responded with four back-to-back goals, deciding the game and settling for the 7th place, two lower than in 2012. The hosts, playing at the Games for the first time, finished 8th.

Final rankings

1. United States

2. Italy

3. Russia

4. Hungary

5. Spain

6. Australia

7. China

8. Brazil

 

Most Valuable Player (MVP): Maggie Steffens (USA)