February 1st marked the beginning of LEN Europa Cup, the new contest for national water polo teams. Ten female squads were divided into two groups, and during first four days of the month, they played the preliminary stage in Oosterhout, the Netherlands (Group A) and Volos, Greece (Group B). Three teams from each group advanced to the Super Final, which is scheduled for March 23-25, and the group winners went straight to the semifinals.
Women’s Super Final Schedule
Quarter-finals (March 23)
Netherlands – Italy
Russia – Hungary
Semi-finals (March 24)
Greece – Netherlands/Italy
Spain – Russia/Hungary
Men’s water polo teams will compete in preliminary stage on February 15-18 for places in their Super Final which will take place on April 5-8.
Spain tops group A, followed by the Netherlands and Russia
The 2017 World silver medalist had a tough job playing against the Netherlands and Russia but managed to prevail and win the group with three victories and one tie. The hosting team and Russia both had one victory less. Dutch ladies finished 2nd with two ties, as Russia suffered one loss. France only beat Croatia (15:5), which was not enough for continuing the competition, whereas Croatia was defeated by all four opponents.
Spanish ladies edged out Russian squad on Day 1 (8:7). Spain went ahead 2:0 in the first quarter, thanks to Clara and Anna Espar Llaquet, leaving their rivals scoreless. Elvina Karimova brought down the deficit to one in the second period, but Clara and Anna each netted one more for their squad’s three-goal advantage. Then Evgeniya Ivanova found the net and Spain went on a break with a two-goal difference (4:2). In the third quarter, Russia had a minimum deficit on two occasions, and Ivanova equalized in the middle of this period announcing the exciting duel until the end. Clara provided a minimum advantage for Spain before the final eight minutes, but Anastasia Simanovich tied the result at the start of the fourth period. Later both teams scored one after another and the result was 7:7 with around 100 seconds left on the clock. Clara scored her fourth goal bringing her team an important victory. She turned out to be game’s top scorer, and Ivanova also netted four for Russia.
Spain had an easy job against France (22:5) and Croatia (25:5). However, the match against the Netherlands ended in a draw (8:8). The hosting team got off to a better start and had a two-goal lead after eight minutes of play (2:0). Simone van de Kraats and Catharina Hendrica van der Sloot each netted one goal. Spanish water polo players struggled in the first quarter and failed to score. After Rozanne Voorvelt’s goal in the second period, Spain was down by three but then finally Judith Forca Ariza found the net to decrease the difference. The result was tied at halftime thanks to Beatriz Ortiz Munoz and Anna Espar Llaquet (3:3). Spain managed to achieve a significant two-goal advantage before the last quarter (4:6) and resisted the attempts of the Dutch ladies to jeopardize their dominance in Group A. The Netherlands was unable to take over the lead in the final period; they only equalized 17 seconds before the end. Van de Kraats was the top scorer with four goals, while Spanish water polo players Ortiz Munoz and Forca Ariza each recorded a hat-trick.
An exciting face-off between the hosts and Russia was played on the last day of preliminaries. The Netherlands had already recorded two wins and one tie, so Russian ladies had to triumph in that last game in order to take the 2nd place in Group A. They demonstrated their motivation at the start of this match which they opened with a 2:0 lead. Van der Sloot scored the hosting team’s only goal in the first half, as the Netherlands was scoreless in the second period. Russia then increased its lead to two and kept it until the break (1:3). The Netherlands finally stepped up their game in the third quarter which saw a tie on two occasions. They even took over the lead in the middle of that period (5:4). Elvina Karimova then netted two consecutive goals and provided a minimum lead to Russia before the final eight minutes. The hosts were unable to take over the lead again. They tied the result at the beginning of the fourth period, but Russia stroke back and went ahead 7:6 with five minutes left on the clock. Nobody managed to find the net for more than three minutes. Ilse Koolhaas netted the equalizer and that was the last goal in this match. The result was tied in the end (7:7) which meant that Russia will proceed to the Super Final as ranked 3rd in its group.
Group A Rankings: 1. Spain – 10 points; 2. The Netherlands – 8; 3. Russia – 7; 4. France -3; 5. Croatia – 0
Greece wins Group B, Hungary and Italy in Super Final as well
In spite of the fact that Group B saw only one tie, the contest was as interesting as in Group A. Olympic silver medalist Greece was the only undefeated team and emerged as the group winner. Hungary and Italy both suffered one loss, but the European champions won one more game so they took the 2nd place in Group B. Germany only edged out Israel (11:9) water polo players who finished last after suffering four losses.
Greek ladies stormed past Germany (32:3) and Israel (25:5) and prevailed over Hungary (8:5). They only recorded one tie – against Italy on Day 4. Even though Italian water polo players went ahead 4:1 in the first period, powerful Greece stroke back and scored six goals in the next quarter, while Italy netted only one. Greece then went on a break with a nice two-goal advantage (7:5). They added two more at the beginning of the second half and achieved a four-goal lead which was a tough challenge for Italian ladies. However, it was not impossible. Italy managed to tie the result in the final period but was unable to take over the lead. Greece woke up and achieved an 11:9 lead four minutes before the end. Then the game’s top scorer Arianna Garibotti scored two of her four goals and prevented Greece from recording another win.
The 2nd ranked Hungary overpowered Italy on Day One of the competition. Italian water polo players were able to keep parity but eventually suffered a narrow 9:11 loss. Hungary established control at the very beginning and kept it until the halftime. But Italy refused to surrender; they overcame a three-goal difference in the first quarter and finished the first half with a minimum deficit (4:5). Italy got off to a better start in the second half. First Rosaria Aiello equalized, and then Roberta Bianconi brought her team the first lead in this game (6:5). Hungary’s Aniko Gyongyossy tied the result, but Elisa Queirolo put Italy back into the lead, and Bianconi added another one for a two-goal advantage before the last period (8:6). However, Italy failed to continue the brilliant play and didn’t score for six minutes. During that period, Hungary scored four goals to take over the lead and achieved a two-goal advantage (8:10). After Garibotti decreased the difference to one two minutes before the end, Dora Toth-Csabai found the net to seal Hungary’s triumph.
Hungarian ladies lost only to Greece (5:8). Greece water polo players were trailing almost the entire game against Hungary. They were unable to make a comeback and only managed to tie the result on two occasions in the first quarter. Greece then dominated the rest of the match.
Group B Rankings: 1. Greece – 10; 2. Hungary – 9; 3. Italy – 7; 4. Germany – 3; 5. Israel – 0
LEN Europa Cup
Women’s Preliminary Stage (February 1-4)
Group A (Oosterhout)
Netherlands 19:5 France
Russia 7:8 Spain
Spain 22:5 France
Netherlands 26:5 Croatia
Spain 25:5 Croatia
France 4:18 Russia
Netherlands 8:8 Spain
Russia 24:5 Croatia
France 15:5 Croatia
Netherlands 7:7 Russia
Group B (Volos)
Italy 9:11 Hungary
Greece 32:3 Germany
Italy 19:0 Israel
Hungary 26:3 Germany
Israel 9:11 Germany
Greece 8:5 Hungary
Italy 25:3 Germany
Greece 25:5 Israel
Israel 3:22 Hungary
Greece 11:11 Italy