The first day of the women’s tournament at the 2023 World Championships began with a bang, featuring exhilarating action in Fukuoka.
European powerhouses, the Netherlands and Hungary, as well as Oceania neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, all secured narrow victories over their respective opponents at the Marine Messe Hall B in Fukuoka. The reigning champions, USA, kicked off their title defense with a convincing win over China (16-5), while Italy, Greece, and the debutants, Israel, put up significant scores against their mismatched opponents.
The most significant victory of the day came in Group B, with the Netherlands’ 7-6 win over European Champions, Spain. France showed significant progress but narrowly fell to Australia (10-8). Hungary held off a spirited effort from Canada (11-10), while Israel hit the ground running in their first-ever World Championships match against Kazakhstan (17-6).
Team USA began their title defense with a leisurely 15-6 victory over China. The Americans took a while to get into a rhythm, but once they got going, they were too strong for Charis Pavlidis’ Chinese side.
The USA amassed just a single goal advantage within the first eight minutes, but the reigning World and Olympic Champions were in the driving seat at halftime (7-2), before reaching double-digits before the end of the third quarter (10-3).
Maddie Musselman was the highest scorer of the game with four goals, but all eleven of her outfield teammates found the back of the net during the match.
There was a much closer contest between Australia and France, with the Stingers taking a narrow but ultimately deserved 10-8 win.
Although Australia looked a bit rusty in front of the goal, the French were perhaps surprisingly competitive, with their new coach, Theo Lorantos – a former Olympian, clearly making a big impact in his short time in charge of the team.
Next year’s Olympic hosts followed Australia all the way, clawing their way back within a single score in the third quarter, having trailed by two scores. Les Bleus couldn’t take their chances to pull level in the concluding quarter, and two scores inside a minute from Zoe Arancini and Abby Andrews delivered the killer blow.
Paul Oberman will take a lot of positives from the performances of his two center-forwards, with Tilly Kearns dominating her opposite number with 6 personal fouls drawn; Tenealle Fasala tallied two goals.
The Netherlands has taken a big step towards the quarter-finals with a hugely significant opening-day win over Spain (7-6).
The reigning European Champions started better, but a more composed second quarter from the Dutch at both ends of the pool secured a second successive win for the Dutch against the Spanish at the World Aquatics competition.
Elena Ruiz was in deadly form in the first part of the game, giving the Spanish a 2-0 lead. A string of awry Spanish attacks in the second period gave the Dutch a way back into the game heading into the final eight minutes (5-5).
Brigitte Sleeking stepped up when it counted in the last quarter, finding two vital goals in succession. The Dutch defending, however, was impenetrable – with the Spanish being thwarted on six consecutive attacks (2 blocked shots, 2 saved shots, and 2 missed shots).
Meanwhile, in Group B, Israel found a winning start to life in the World Championships, dominating Kazakhstan 17-6. Three Israelis – Maria Bogachenko, Shunit Strugo, and Alma Yaacobi – all netted four times in the match for the hosts of the next European Championships. We will know how competitive Israel really is when they meet Spain the day after tomorrow.
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There were two incredibly one-sided games in Group C, with Italy and Greece not giving their opponents a chance in their opening preliminary round fixtures.
Italy tore Argentina apart 27-1, with all outfield players hitting the target, and five players scoring hat-tricks. The Setterosa’s Silvia Avegno had the most success in front of the goal, with a quartet of scores. Argentina’s only goal came from a 5m penalty – they failed to register a goal during the second 29 minutes of the match.
Greece was equally dominant in their first game of the tournament, asserting their superiority in a 24-2 win over South Africa.
The two Eleftherias in the Greek side – Plevritou and Foundotou – each tallied four scores. The South Africans only celebrated two goals in the match, both during the first half.
Greece and Italy will meet on day three (20th July) in what will surely be the group-deciding duel.
There were two exceptionally exciting contests in the last two games of the day in Group D, with New Zealand and Hungary edging past Japan and Canada respectively.
New Zealand ran-out eventual winners over the hosts Japan in a 33 goal-fest (17-16). The Japanese had their noses in front right up until the end of the third period, when Bernie Doyle rifled home on the quick break to level the scores (13-13). The hosts looked galvanised when they found two quick goals early in the fourth, but the Kiwis dug deep, and turned the game around with four consecutive and clinical strikes, led by two efforts from Emily Nicholson.
In the last game of the day, Hungary once again proved a hurdle too high for Canada, with Magyars taking a slender by deserved 11-10 opening-day victory.
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The Maples deserve a lot of credit for some brilliant blocking and incisive attacking moves, particularly on their powerplay (80% conversion rate). However two conversions in two attacks from the Magyars in the final quarter took a one-goal difference to three. Rita Keszthelyi found four goals in the match, but was suspended in the final quarter. Canada’s next game, against New Zealand is a must-win.