Spain and Greece win the groups, qualify to SF
Spain and Greece finished atop respectively in the prelims of the women’s Europa Cup and booked their places in the semi-finals. LEN’s brand new competition for national teams proved to be an instant success as the top sides’ matches brought fantastic excitements. The finals on 23-25 March will feature the best six teams of the continent, thrilling games are already guaranteed.
Expect the unexpected – as it’s usual among the European powerhouses in women’s water polo, and as a proof, a series of brilliant matches – three of them ending a draw – kicked off LEN’s brand new competition for national teams, the Europa Cup. In fact no teams managed to win all its matches, not even the group winners.
Spain caught the top spot in Oosterhout (NED) and booked its place in the semis. Their 8-7 win over Russia was the key. The 2017 World Championships silver medallist led almost all the way but the Russians could climb back after 1-4 down. But even if they could level the score at 5-5, the Espar sisters, Anna and Clara delivered the last three goals for Spain. The last one came 35 seconds from time by Clara and the Russians couldn’t save the game to a draw despite having a 6 on 5 in the last seconds.
Spain then earned an 8-8 draw against the host Netherlands. The Dutch took a 3-0 lead early in the second period but in the following 14:30 minutes they could score only a single goal while the Spaniards started rolling and went 4-6 up before the last break. It couldn’t have been any more thrilling in the fourth, the visitors were 5-7 up with 3:24 to go, two minutes later it was 7-7 but Judith Forca scored from action and the Dutch equaliser came too late, just 17 seconds from time.
Still, the hosts could have a shot at the first place, all they needed was a three-goal win over Russia on the closing day. However, they never got close to that margin, in fact they led only once in the entire encounter, at 5-4 in the third. At the end they had to go for the equaliser which they got with 1:34 remaining on the clock and with that 7-7 tie they clinched the second place while Russia took the third qualifying berth.
Host Greece topped Group B in Volos after sheer excitements on the closing day. Italy could have also clinched the first place if the Olympic silver medallist side had beaten the Greeks by three goals. After eight minutes the Setterosa was set to achieve that as they led 1-4. But next came the hosts with an astonishing 6-1 rush in the second period as they went from 2-5 down to 7-5 up in 5:02 minutes.
Two more action goals in 46 seconds seemed to put them in a comfortable position deep into the third (9-5) but the Italians didn’t give in. With 6:03 to go in the fourth, they were back (9-9) – the hosts, however, responded well, and after a ‘silence’ of 8:03 minutes they scored again, what’s more, twice in 44 seconds and that secured the top spot for them. Italy had some consolation as they managed to save the match to a draw with a double from Arianna Garibotti (11-11) but they had to settle for the third place.
Hungary came second as they beat the Italians earlier with an outstanding fourth period by netting five goals in eight minutes to earn a 11-9 win after being 6-8 down at the end of the third period. They couldn’t repeat that performance in the following evening when Greece showed some great defending while defeating the Magyars 8-5.
The finals will be held in Spain, in the city of Pontevedra. The format is the well-known scheme from previous year’s Champions League Final Six: the two group-winners qualified directly to the semi-finals while the second and third ranked sides will clash in the quarters. The winner shall receive €20,000 in prize-money the runner-up gets €15,000 while the bronze medal pays €5,000. The men’s prelims are due on 15-18 February, their finals are scheduled for 5-8 April.
Women’s Europa Cup, prelims
Group A (Oosterhut)
- Spain 10, 2. Netherlands 8, 3. Russia 7, 4. France 3, 5. Croatia 0
Group B (Volos)
- Greece 10, 2. Hungary 9, 3. Italy 7, 4. Germany 3, 5. Israel 0
The top three sides advanced to the finals.
Europa Cup Finals (23-25 March, Pontevedra, ESP)
23 March – Quarter-finals
Netherlands v Italy
Russia v Hungary
24 March – Semi-finals
Netherlands/Italy v Greece
Russia/Hungary v Spain
For places 5-6: losers of QFs
25 March – Medal Round
Bronze medal match
Europa Cup Final