Tourists are flocking to California en masse this time of year, but eight of the world’s best national teams are not arriving on the Gold Coast to enjoy a holiday. The finals of the revamped World Cup competition is in town, and the top-two teams will secure their tickets to the Doha World Championships next year. There will be plenty more opportunities to book a berth for Doha in 2024, but like booking a holiday, it’s better to get it done sooner rather than later.
While the men’s competition is scheduled for the end of the month, the focus currently lies on the women’s competition, which promises to be as scorching as the Californian sun.
Long Beach hosted the 1991 edition of the Women’s World Cup. The Netherlands took gold, Australia silver and the hosts, USA, had to settle for a bronze.
It is fitting that the United States is hosting these World Cup finals for two significant reasons. Firstly, Long Beach City College, the venue for the Women’s World Cup finals, will also be the site of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic water polo tournament. Additionally, an American host adds an extra layer of narrative, as the United States women’s national team enters a major international tournament as non-reigning champions for the first time in a decade.
Quarter-Final fixtures, June 23rd 2023 (CEST)
22:00pm – Hungary vs Greece
Midnight – Spain vs Italy
02:00am – United States vs Israel
04:00am – New Zealand vs Netherlands
The performance of the United States in this competition will be of great interest. In recent major competitions, such as the World League Super Finals and the initial rounds of this competition, they have displayed vulnerability with defeats to Hungary and the Netherlands. Prioritising the integration of young players, Adam Krikorian aims to rebuild the team before Fukuoka, Doha, and Paris. Thus far, the development of talented individuals like Emily Ausmus, Jenna Flynn, and Ella Woodhead has been exceptional. However, the team still boasts a formidable lineup of experienced stars, including Maddie Musselman, Maggie Steffens, Ashleigh Johnson, Amanda Longan, Jordan Raney, and Rachel Fattal, who continue to perform at the highest level. While the Americans are expected to progress easily from their quarter-final clash with Israel, they will need to be at their best from that point forward.
If the United States is not considered the favourites, that distinction must surely go to the Netherlands. Evangelos Doudesis’ impressive team has been the one to watch since the early stages of this competition, securing a highly favourable quarter-final matchup against New Zealand. The Netherlands has made remarkable progress over the past two years since Tokyo, and they now possess the qualities of a winning team. Their roster boasts remarkable individual talent, including exceptional goal-scoring abilities from Van de Kraats, Sleeking, and Rogge, the intelligence of Van der Sloot and Keuning, the strength of Sevenich, Joustra, and Wolves, and two outstanding goalkeepers. Although there might not be public pressure on them, this tournament will serve as a true test to determine if the Dutch can claim gold at a major competition.
The Netherlands have won a record-smashing eight World Cups – twice as many as the second best team USA (4).
The Dutch have never failed to medal at the World Cup tournaments they have competed in: 12 played, 8 golds, 3 silvers and 1 bronze medal.
Netherland’s dominance in the World Cup hit its height between 1988 and 1993, where the Oranges won four titles in a row. They remain the only team to retain a World Cup title (1988, 1989, 1991, 1993).
Spain in one sense are the ‘reigning champions’. Despite a setback against the Setterosa in Rotterdam, Spain has maintained a good rhythm, having clinched two major titles in the latter part of last season. Spanish women’s water polo is thriving at the moment, thanks to the high level of club competition. Miki Oca will hope that the demanding club schedule hasn’t taken a toll on the national team. Spain managed to defeat the USA in Rotterdam for the first time in a decade, but they subsequently suffered a defeat against Italy, who coincidentally will be their quarter-final opponents in Los Angeles. The Spanish team has demonstrated a newfound toughness that was absent in previous years, and they aim to showcase it in this tournament, particularly with their dominant centres.
Spain will be competing at only their third World Cup competition in Long Beach. At the last two editions, they took home a 3rd (2014) and 4th (2018) place finish.
Hungary arrives in Long Beach in good form, boasting a largely unchanged team from their silver-medal-winning performance at the World League Super Finals in Tenerife in November 2022. With Rita Keszthelyi, the world’s best goal-scorer, in their ranks, Hungary’s title aspirations will be significantly strengthened if she is in her usual top form. Attila Biro’s team excels physically, but may need to improve their mental game. A strong start against Greece in the quarter-finals could help them build the necessary rhythm to reach the top of the podium.
Although the Setterosa was convincingly defeated by Hungary in their recent two-game test series, Italy has a reputation for rising to the occasion. Carlo Silipo’s team has yet to replicate their impressive bronze-medal finish at the European Championships in Split, but they have always proven to be a challenging opponent to overcome. Given their quarter-final opponents are Spain, it would be surprising if Italy progresses to the final four.
Greece will feel at home in Long Beach, particularly because they have been in California for the past two weeks. Alexia Kammenou has diligently trained her team in the Golden State, including three test games against their hosts, the USA, even though they ended in defeat. While Greece barely qualified for this tournament, edging out Australia for the 6th Division 1 berth, they displayed impressive form in two of their three games against the United States. They will give their best effort in the quarter-final against Hungary, but securing three wins in Long Beach is highly unlikely for the Ethniki.
Greece have the lowest win ratio (16%) at the World Cup of the top ten top women’s teams in the competition. The Netherlands have the highest at 70%, followed by the USA (69%), Australia (55%), Russia (52%), Spain (50%), Hungary (46%), China (45%), Italy (44%) and Canada (42%)
Israel, a team that qualified for this tournament from Division 2, finds itself in uncharted territory. However, their participation is a remarkable achievement and a testament to their emergence as one of Europe’s growing water polo programs. Numerous Israeli players performed admirably in Europe’s top leagues this season, with some making significant contributions in American college water polo as well. This competition presents an excellent opportunity for them to convert their top-6 finish at the European Championships into a potential top-6 finish in the world.
Completing the line-up is New Zealand, who will once again assume the role of underdogs, just as they did at the World League Super Finals in Tenerife. Alongside Israel, the Kiwis earned their place in these finals after competing in Division 2 in Berlin. Unlike Israel, New Zealand boasts a proven track record at major international tournaments, including a recent top-10 finish at the World Championships in Budapest. Many Kiwi players are establishing themselves in Europe’s professional leagues and American collegiate conferences, gradually acclimating to the demands of this level of competition. Realistically, New Zealand primarily views this competition as excellent preparation for the World Championships in Fukuoka next month.
New Zealand have appeared at seven World Cup tournaments, with their highest finish being 4th back in 1984.
World Cup Rosters
Greece – Chrysoula Diamantopoulou (Vouliagmeni), Eleftheria Plevritou (Olympiacos), Ioanna Chydirioti (Olympiacos), Nikoleta Eleftheriadou (Olympiacos), Margarita Plevritou (Olympiacos), Eleni Xenaki (Olympiacos), Eirini Ninou (Ethnikos), Eleni Elliniadi (Vouliagmeni), Christina Siouti (Olympiacos), Vasiliki Plevritou (Olympiacos), Athina Giannopoulou (Vouliagmeni), Maria Myriokefalitaki (Olympiacos), Ioanna Stamatopoulou (Olympiacos), Eleftheria Fountontou (Glyfada), Foteini Tricha (Olympiacos)
Hungary – Alda Magyari (UVSE), Neszmély Boglárka (FTC), Vanda Baksa (UVSE), Kamilla Faragó (UVSE), Krisztina Garda (Dunaujvaros), Gréta Gurisatti (FTC), Kata Hajdú (UVSE), Dóra Leimeter (FTC), Rita Keszthelyi (Mataro), Geraldine Mahieu (Dunaujvaros), Zsuzsanna Máté (FTC), Rebecca Parkes (Eger), Natasa Rybanska (UVSE), Dorottya Szilágyi (Eger), Vanda Vályi (FTC)
Israel – Ayelet Peres (ASA Tel Aviv), Alma Yaacobi (ASA Tel Aviv), Noa Markovsky, Maria Bogachenko (Panionios), Tahel Levi (Patra), Veronica Kordonskaia (Lille), Sunit Strugo (Hapoel Yoqneam), Dar Menakerman (Terrassa), Dina Namakshtansky (ASA Tel Aviv), Noa Sasover (Brizz), Yahav Farkash (Hapoel Yoqneam), Ronny Gazit (ASA Tel Aviv), Hila Futorian (Pacific), Noga Levinshtein, Michal Katz
Italy – Silvia Avegno (Matarò), Lucrezia Cergol (Pallanuoto Trieste), Carlotta Meggiato (Plebiscito PD), Sara Cordovani (RN Florentia), Roberta Bianconi (Rapallo Water polo),Giuditta Galardi (SIS Rome), Domitilla Picozzi (SIS Rome), Agnese Cocchiere (SIS Rome), Caterina Banchelli (SIS Rome), Claudia Marletta (Ekipe Orizzonte), Chiara Tabani (Ekipe Orizzonte), Valeria Palmieri (Ekipe Orizzonte), Giulia Viacava (Ekipe Orizzonte), Aurora Condorelli (Ekipe Orizzonte), Dafne Bettini (Ekipe Orizzonte), Veronica Gant (Ekipe Orizzonte), Sofia Giustini (Astralpool Sabadell)
Netherlands – Laura Aarts (Dunaujvaros), Sarah Buis (UZSC), Vivian Sevenich (CN Mataro) Simone van de Kraats (CN Mataro), Maartje Keuning (GZC Donk), Marit van der Weijden (GZC Donk), Brigitte Sleeking (Vouliagmeni), Kitty Lynn Joustra (Vouliagmeni) , Sabrina van der Sloot (CN Sabadell, Spanje), Bente Rogge (ZV De Zaan), Lieke Rogge (ZV De Zaan), Maxine Schaap (Plebiscito Padova), Fleurien Bosveld (CN Terrassa) Nina ten Broek (CN Terrassa), Iris Wolves (Glyfada), Lola Moolhuijzen (Polar Bears).
New Zealand – Jessica Milicich (Spandau Berlin), Emily Nicholson (Tenerife Echeyde), Bernie Doyle (Rethymnou), Elizabeth Gault (Atlantic), Gabriel Milicich (Marist), Isabelle Jackson (Atlantis), Emmerson Houghton (Spandau Berlin), Katie McKenty (AEK), Sophie Shorter-Robinson (Arizona Sun Devils), Gabby Macdonald (Atlantis City), Kaitlin Howarth (Fresno State Bulldogs), Millie Quin (California), Bridget Layburn (Hawaii)
Spain – Paula Camus (CN Terrassa), Paula Crespi (Mediterrani), Anni Espar (CN Mataro), Laura Ester (Sabadell), Judith Forca (Sabadell), Maica Garcia (Sabadell), Paula Leiton (Sabadell), Cristina Nogue (CN Mataro), Bea Ortiz (Sabadell), Pili Pena (CN Terrassa), Nona Perez (Sabadell), Paula Prats (Mediterrani), Ariadna Ruiz (Sant Andreu), Elena Ruiz (Sabadell), Martina Terre (Sant Andreu)
United States – Ashleigh Johnson (NYAC), Amanda Longan, Maddie Musselman, Tara Prentice (Sant Andreu), Rachel Fattal (NYAC), Ava Johnson (UCLA), Emily Ausmus, Maggie Steffens (Sabadell), Jewel Roemer (Stanford), Jenna Flynn (Stanford), Kaleigh Gilchrist (NYAC), Bayley Weber (USC), Jordan Raney, Ryann Neushul (Stanford), Amanda Longan, Jovana Sekulic (Princeton), Ella Woodhead (Stanford).
2018, Surgut, Russia – United States
2014, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia – United States
2010, Christchurch, New Zealand – United States
2006, Tianjin, China – Australia
2002, Perth, Australia – Hungary
1999, Winnipeg, Canada – Netherlands
1997, Nancy, France – Netherlands
1995, Sydney, Australia – Australia
1993, Catania, Italy – Netherlands
1991, Long Beach, USA – Netherlands
1988, Christchurch, New Zealand – Netherlands
1984, Irvine, USA – Australia
1983, Sainte-Foy, Canada – Netherlands
1981, Brisbane, Australia – Canada
1980 – Breda, Netherlands, Netherlands,
1979 – Merced, USA – United States
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