18th FINA World Water Polo Championships: The Russians Are Coming!

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Ekaterina Prokofyeva has been key to Russia's recent success. Photo Courtesy: Tsutom Kishimoto / FINA

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In looking at contenders perhaps powerful enough to dethrone the U.S women’s water polo squad, two-time defending world champions, attention initially centers on Holland. With a high-octane offense led by 6-1 striker Maud Megens, last week the 2019 Europa Cup winners held a third-quarter lead on the Americans before dropping a 12-9 decision. Saturday, Head Coach Arno Havenga’s squad struggled before defeating Canada 5-4 behind two Megens scores. They’ll need to play better if they hope to defeat Spain in Monday’s quarterfinals and advance to the semifinals of the 18th FINA World Water Polo Championships.

[USA Women Prevail over Holland in 3rd Day of FINA World Water Polo Championships]

fina-gwangju-jul19There’s also Italy; 3-0 in Group D, last month the Italians and their superb striker Arianna Garibotti—who netted two scores—gave Team USA fits before dropping an 10-9 decision at the FINA World League Super Final. The Italians were also the Americans’ opponent in the 2016 Rio Olympics—a resounding 12-5 victory that gave the U.S. a second straight Olympic gold.

[QUALIFIED! USA Women Punch Ticket To Tokyo With Super Final Gold]

Not to be outdone, the Spaniards (3-0) have been a consistent thorn in the side of Team USA Head Coach Adam Krikorian. They advanced to the 2017 FINA Worlds final, only to be vanquished by the score of 13-6 as the U.S. won second-straight FINA gold. Roser Tarrago—a four year player at Cal (2014-18)—was injured for the 2017 Worlds but is back and very healthy, leading the Spanish attack with eight goals, though she skipped the last match in Group C play, a 19-6 win over Cuba.

28-07-2017: Waterpolo: Amerika v Spanje: Boedapest (L-R) during the Gold medal waterpolomatch between women USA and Spain at the final of the 17th FINA World Championships 2017 in Budapest, Hungary Photo / Foto: Gertjan Kooij

U.S. women—still the team to beat with 50 straight wins. Photo Courtesy: Gertjan Kooij

But the team that perhaps the Americans (3-0) should fear most is the Russians. Since Head Coach Alexander Gaidukov arrived four years ago, his team has narrowed their gap against the Americans. It’s been almost a decade since the U.S dropped a match to U.S. (15 straight losses), in their last three meetings they’ve lost by an average margin of four goals. In the 2017 FINA Worlds semifinals, Gaidukov’s squad rushed out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Anastasia Simanovich and Ekaterina Prokofyeva before the American roared back with 11 goals over the first and second quarters to capture a 14-9 win.

Monday’s Quarterfinals will be key

Depending upon how both teams fair in the quarterfinals tomorrow, a semifinal meeting could take place on Wednesday. The U.S. (3-0) will face Greece, seeking to extend a winning streak which has now reached an incredible 50 straight, while Russia will play Australia, a 13-3 winner Saturday against Kazakhstan. This could prove dangerous to American hopes of winning an unprecedented third-straight world title.

The Russians pack a one-two punch that is a combination of young and old. Team captain Prokofyeva has consistently been the team’s leading scorer, and she’s already netted seven goals in three matches. Then there’s 21-year-old Maria Bersneva, who picked up four goals in a surprisingly easy 17-12 Group B win over Hungary and has five for the tournament.

Gaidukov brought back nine players from the 2017 FINA World Championship bronze medalist, but he also added precocious youngsters Bersneva and 20-year old goalie Evgeniia Golovina—though Anna Karnaukh was in the Russian cage against the Hungarians. Then there’s Tatiana Tolkunova, who is a hold over from the 2017 squad. On a squad that averages a youthful 25 years of age, the 20 year old has netted five goals in three games, including a perfect 3 for 3 in a 30-1 rout of host South Korea.

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Russia’s Alena Serzhantova. Photo Courtesy: Tsutomu Kishimoto / FINA

To reach the other side of the semifinal bracket, Italy will need to subdue Hungary and the Spaniards will need to blunt the Dutch—potentially a tall order given that Spain lost to Holland 9-6 in a quarterfinal paring at the Europa Cup.

[18th FINA World Championships: A Numbers Game for US Women’s Water Polo]

Whomever advances to the finals will likely find the United States there waiting for them. With nine Olympic gold medalists gracing a roster of 13, Team USA is one of the best sides in the relatively brief history of women’s polo. Though, nothing last forever, and perhaps the Russians will find a way to upset the heavily favored Americans—and make this year’s world championships that much more memorable.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Errol

    Is there any way to stream the USA WWP games from the US?