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Penalty 'lottery’ ends in heartbreak for water polo women

16 August 2016

WATER POLO: The Australian women’s water polo team have continued the tradition of epic encounters against Hungary at the Olympic Games but this time the result hasn’t gone their way.

In a physical, tense and ultimately heartbreaking encounter the Australians lost in a penalty shootout after scores were level, 8-8, after four quarters.

Cruelly the Australians were never behind on the scoreboard in regular time. It was Captain Bronwyn Knox who unluckily hit the bar with her penalty attempt which put the Hungarians in front. 

Goal keeper Lea Yanitsas, who had a sensational game with numerous saves, had two attempts for the miracle save to keep their Olympic podium quest alive but it wasn’t to be. The Australians went down 11-13.

Full credit to the Hungarian team who didn’t falter in the penalty shoot-out and fought back from three goals down in the first and second quarters to keep fight their way back into the match.

Vice-captain Rowie Webster spoke on behalf of the devastated team.

“We had our opportunities. We started really well,” Webster who scored two goals said.

“Good teams are always going to fight back when they’re down and that’s exactly what they did and they ended up putting away their opportunities, levelled it and won the game.”

The cruel nature of the penalty shootout is something the Team was prepared for.   

“We’ve been in this position before. We’ve set a team culture in place that we know the people that step up to take those penalties have the full support of each and every individual in that pool. Unfortunately the last thing you see is a miss but the game was probably won and lost before that point.

“There’s no “I” in this team. We’ve worked so hard to become a unit and team – we eat, sleep, live together for months on end so it will only bring this team together. I truly believe that. You learn more from your losses than you do your wins and that’s something that we can hopefully take into the future.

“We’re never going to forget this feeling to be honest. So those that play on, this will drive them for another four years. Those that don’t play on well, their journey’s been bittersweet.”

Coach Greg McFadden, who has led Australia to medals at the past two Games with thrilling wins over Hungary, is proud of the team and lamented being knocked-out by penalties.

“We had a good start and unfortunately we couldn’t carry on with it,” a devastated McFadden said.

“We played really well early. We were aggressive, we looked confident but they just gradually drew exclusions, got extra players, we got players on foul trouble.

“We were one player short because a player’s injured (Hannah Buckling) and we just ran out of a bit of centre back and that’s where their centre forwards killed us in the end.”

Before the shoot-out McFadden told the girls to back themselves with their shots.

“There’s not much you can do. It’s a lottery. Goalie jumps one side, you hit the post. I don’t agree with penalty shoot-outs because it makes one person feel bad. It’s a team sport and I’d prefer to play extra time and I’ve said that all the time.”

McFadden said it was just bad luck that it was Knox who missed the penalty.

“She’s unfortunately the one who missed and is the one who feels bad but it’s a team sport. It’s not just one incident that lost us the game. There were other incidents that contributed to that. I’m very proud of the girls.”

The Australians drew the European Champions in the quarter-final due to an unexpected loss to Italy earlier in the Games.

“The first game the girls were all excited then all of a sudden the pressure comes on in the second game against Italy and we started to doubt ourselves. And unfortunately we didn’t back ourselves enough today in crucial moments but mate, I’m proud of the girls. They are a great bunch of girls. They deserve a medal,” an emotional McFadden said.

Webster said that lack of consistency was their ultimate downfall.

“Consistency probably wasn’t our closest friend this Olympic campaign. When we look good, we’re the best team in the competition.

“Self-belief for any athlete is something you have to have before you come into the Games because the Olympic Games sure know how to try and take that away from you. I’m super proud of them. Unfortunately it’s another four years until we get another opportunity to come and play for a medal.”

Australia got in front early and never were behind until the end of the penalty shoot-out.

Just 67 seconds into the match Glencora McGhie scored for Australia after a great save by goalkeeper Lea Yanitsas at the other end when Hungary had an extra player advantage.

Yanitsas, who was isolated form her teammates when she arrived in Rio as precautionary measure for gastro and rested for the early matches, was outstanding and the difference between the two teams early on.

The first goal brought the first of many roars from the large Aussie contingent on one side of the pool, headed by the Australian men’s team wearing only their swimmers, caps and ties from the Opening Ceremony.

Just under five minutes into the match Webster made it 2-0 and it took less than two minutes for Webster to goal again from mid-range (3-0).

Just 43 seconds before the end of the first quarter, Hungary made the score 3-1 converting a penalty shot.

Yanitsas pulled off three great saves in the first quarter, conceding only the penalty as she was aided by physical defence from her teammates. The Aussies had nine shots at goal to Hungary’s three in the opening quarter.

In the first minute of the second quarter Holly Lincoln-Smith suffered a second exclusion.

Ash Southern took the ascendancy to 4-1 after 10 minutes and she brilliantly scored again from a long-range shot from the left to take it to 5-1, forcing the Hungarians to call their first time out in an effort to refocus.

A little over a minute before half-time Hungary brought it back to 5-2 through Dora Czigany from close-range.

Knox decided to take a chance on a long-range goal with 17 seconds of the first half remaining but it was saved and it gave the Hungarians a chance to counter-attack just before the break. They took advantage in the last second of play when Ildiko Toth snuck the ball into the top of goals, giving Hungary two goals in the last minute of the quarter (5-3).

At half-time both team had had 13 shots on goal but it was Hungary who were starting to gain some momentum.

The Hungarians change their keeper in the 3rd quarter and it was a tough battle to start the 2nd half. After two and half minutes a long range shot from Hungarian Orsolya Takacs brought the score to within one (5-4). 

A third brilliant long range shot from Ash Southern took the Australian lead to 6-4 but the Hungarians were not done yet.

Gemma Beadsworth’s contribution ended midway through the 3rd quarter when she was excluded for a third and final time.

Following a Hungarian time-out Barbra Bujka scored to bring the difference back to one (6-5).

Nicola Zagame had a strong shot on goal saved and then at the other end Rita Kesthyelyi levelled the scores at 6-6 with 1:38 left in the 3rd quarter. It was the first time in over 21 minutes of play that the teams were level.

Australia then hit back through a fast attack and early shot from McGhie, shooting past three defenders to take a 7-6 lead. One final lob shot from the Aussies hit the cross-bar on the buzzer to leave the lead at one at the final break.

In a tense fourth quarter both teams came out firing with Knox nailing a long range shot to give the Australians an 8-6 lead.  The control the Aussies appeared to have was short lived as Bujka scored again to bring the score back to 8-7 with the momentum again shifting.

Yanitsas continued to make superb saves but with three minutes remaining Hungary levelled the scores 8-8 through a Dora Antal goal.

Southern and Lincoln-Smith almost combined to seal the win but it was extra time and the ‘lottery’ would play out. Hungary shot first so Australia was playing catch-up. Webster and Southern scored (10-10) before the Knox hit the post (10-12). Keesja Gofers scored for Australia but Czigany and Antal finished it off for Hungary (11-13).

Australia toppled Hungary for the bronze medal at both the Beijing and London Olympic Games in similar thrillers.

The elimination in a penalty shoot out is especially cruel for Knox and Gemma Beadsworth who had won bronze at the past two Games and had sacrificed so much to stand on top of the podium like their mentors from the Sydney 2000 Games had done.

The Australian women now play two more games for classification from 5th to 8th. Hungary will now take on USA who are undefeated.

This is the second penalty shootout loss for Australia at the Rio 2016 Games after the women’s football team suffered the same fate against hosts Brazil in their quarter-final.

Match scores:

Australia 8 (Southern 3, Webster, 2 McGhie 2, Knox 1)
Hungary 8 (Keszthelyi 2, Bujka 2, Czigany 1, Antal 1, Toth 1, Takacs 1)

Andrew Reid and Neil Cadigan

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