Dutch upset gold medallists Italy in water polo

18th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

The Netherlands’ women’s water polo team defeats Italy 13-11 in penalty shots and advances to play Hungary in the semi-finals on Tuesday.

18 August 2008

BEIJING - The Netherlands upset defending gold medallists Italy 13-11 in penalty shots in the quarterfinals of the Olympic women's water polo tournament Sunday.

Erzsebet Valkai's first missed penalty shot in three years with the Italian national team came at the worst possible time, helping the Dutch to victory.

"Three years, no mistakes in penalties," Italian coach Mauro Maugeri said. "Never miss. Never in European championships. Never in Olympic qualification. Never in Olympics. Never in three years. Never."

The Netherlands advanced to play Hungary in the semi-finals Tuesday. The Hungarians won the teams' earlier meeting, 11-9 in pool play.

"It's our duty to reset that first match, if you know what I mean," Dutch driver Danielle de Bruijn said. "I think we have a score to settle."

Australia and the United States, the top two teams in the world rankings, will meet in the other semi-finals. The Australians overcame countless mistakes to edge China 12-11 Sunday.

"We survived and we're going to beat America next," Australian coach Greg McFadden said confidently.

The Netherlands, ranked ninth in the world, came to Beijing as longshots for a medal.

And many gave them even less chance after they went 1-2 in preliminary play, with the lone victory coming against a Greek squad that finished 0-4 and was outscored by a whopping 17 goals.

But the Dutch outplayed Italy most of the match. The Italians trimmed a two-goal deficit in half with 2:06 remaining in regulation, then got the equalizer with 4 seconds to play.

Elisa Casanova, playing with a mask to protect her broken nose, drew a penalty shot foul around the 2-meter spot. Valkai was called on to make the shot, and she skipped it past goalkeeper Ilse van der Meijden. This time, Van der Meijden guessed wrong and lunged in the opposite direction of the ball.

Neither team scored in two overtime periods, and the match went to penalty shots - an alternating, best-of-five situation.

Valkai went first for Italy, but her skip shot bounced off van der Meijden's left hand. This time, she guessed right.

The Dutch did the rest, making all five of their shots against Elena Gigli. Yasemin Smit sealed the victory with a shot that hit the right post and ricocheted into the back of the net.

"We were the better team for four periods," Dutch driver Gillian van der Berg said. "They were lucky they scored in the final 4 seconds."

Valkai, who played for Hungary four years ago and would have reluctantly faced her sister, Agnes, in the semi-finals with a victory, spent several minutes sobbing pool-side with teammates before slowly walking to the locker room with the hood of her robe pulled over her sunken head.

"She's hurt," Maugeri said.

Australia's McFadden felt relieved after his team's victory.

More frustrating for McFadden was the lob shot goalie Emma Knox allowed at the end of the first half. Huanhuan Ma's long-range rainbow with no time on the clock sailed over Knox's head, hit bottom part of the right post and rolled in.

McFadden switched goalkeepers at the break.

"We are like any other Australian team, when the chips are down, that's when we fight our hardest," Nikita Cuffe said. "For them to keep coming back, keep coming back, just made us keep stepping up."

The Australians now will try to do something they haven't done in eight years: beat the Americans in a major water polo event.

The United States has won the last five meetings in Olympic, World Cup and World Championship competition by a combined 14 goals. Australia's last victory came in the goal-medal match at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when the Aussies scored a disputed goal with 1.3 seconds left to win 4-3.

[AP / Expatica]

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