Holland’s Vivian Sevenich
and Hungary’s Rita Keszthelyi. Photo Courtesy: Water Polo World
Group play in the women’s water polo bracket of the FINA World Championship concluded Thursday, with Greece, Hungary, Italy and USA claiming the top spots in their respective groups, each earning a bye into the quarterfinals and the luxury of resting until Monday.
By virtue of an 11-8 decision over Australia, the Greeks were easily the day’s biggest winner. Finishing first in Group D means that Coach Georgios Morfesis’s squad avoids a dreaded quarterfinal matchup with the favored Americans.
That unwanted distinction likely now belongs to Australia; based on the intricate seeding for Saturday’s so called “crossover”—or play-in—matches for the lower half of the quarterfinal bracket, the Aussies, as the second-place finisher in Group D, will face France, third place in Group C. The winner of that match books a date on Monday with Team USA, which has appeared miles ahead of the rest of the field.
The Americans easily outdistanced New Zealand on Thursday by a 22-7 score to finish unscathed at the top of Group B with a goal differential of +41, easily the largest in the tournament. Maggie Steffens chipped in a game-high five goals while Maddie Musselman scored four as the U.S. again broke out to a substantial first quarter lead—this time by a 6-2 count—on its way to a third win in Budapest and six points.
The day’s most highly anticipated match was as good as advertised, as host Hungary again fed off the tremendous energy generated by their passionate fans to win at Alfred Hajos Pool—what legendary head coach Denes Kemeny recently termed the “mecca” for water polo. With a decisive 10-8 victory over previously undefeated Holland, the Hungarians finished on top of Group C, earning a quarterfinal bye. Captain Rita Keszthelyi chipped in another two goals for the home side, while Hungary’s defense took a bend-but-don’t break approach, as Yasemin Smit (4 goals) and Sabrina van der Sloot (3 goals—12 for the tournament) provided the bulk of Dutch scoring.
Holland has a date on Saturday against Russia, which beat Kazakhstan 15-6 to finish with the same number of points (four) as Australia but—due to a loss to the Aussies on Tuesday—avoided the Americans and finished third in Group D. Kazakhstan went winless in the group and will face Japan—winless in Group C after a tough 9-8 loss to France—on Saturday in a classification match.
Behind another strong match from Giulia Gorlero (12 saves), Italy maintained its form against China by a 15-8 score, thereby clinching the top spot in Group A with six points. The Chinese fell to third, behind the Canadians, who benefitted from a tremendous performance by Kyra Christmas (five goals on five shots) to beat Brazil by 16-6. On Saturday Canada will face New Zealand, which avoided the bottom of Group B thanks to South Africa, which finished 0-3 in the group with a goal differential of -38.
The South Africans will be active Saturday, playing Brazil, last in Group A in a classification match. So will China, which will face Spain for a spot in the quarterfinals on the line. The Spaniards, who won convincingly over South Africa by a 17-3 score to finish second in Group B, can only hope that Saturday’s play leads to meaningful games Monday against the group leaders.