It was Australia that came out on top in a hard fought 8-5 win over Group A rivals Canada in the first match of the Women’s Water Polo. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.
Water Polo underway at Tokyo 2020
The Women’s Water Polo kicked off today with the first match of Group A pitting two of the Olympic medal chances against each other in an important opening match.
Australia were looking to bounce back from a disappointing showing in Rio 2016 where they slumped to a sixth place finish.
Opponents Canada have never won gold at the Olympics but the Canadians have long been an impressive water polo outfit.
In match one of the tournament, it was the Stingers that came out on top, but it did not come easily against a gallant and determined Canada.
Aussies sting first before Canadian comeback
It was a tense first quarter with neither side showing any signs of pulling away.
Australia started best, finding the net early courtesy of Bronte Halligan and a number of shots hitting the frame of the goal, inches away from extending the lead.
Canada eventually made its mark on the game with Australia a player down on two occasions, the second proving costly.
With an extra player, Canadian Kyra Christmas put the ball past a defiant Lea Yanitsas in the Australian goal to level the game at 1-1, with the scoreline remaining the same through to the first break.
Australia started the second quarter with a bang, Bronte Halligan adding to her tally and putting the Aussies in front early in thanks largely to a Canadian exclusion.
The lead was swiftly doubled by left-hander Abby Andrews as she fired home from the right hand side of the goal, across the Canadian Goalkeeper.
The Canadians then made a host of changes in an attempt to swing momentum their way but failed to make the most of yet another Stingers exclusion.
Bronwen Knox scored Australia’s fourth goal thanks in no small part to a deflection and it looked like the Aussies were in full control heading into half-time.
But, the first half action was not done. In the dying minutes of the half, Canadian wing Monica Eggens scored two goals in quick succession to bring the margin back to just one.
Rowie Webster had the chance to extend the lead for the Aussies in the final minute but failed to convert a penalty, though Zoe Arancini did not have any problem at the other end, lobbing it over the goalkeeper to ensure the Aussies remained on top at the half, the score 5-3.
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Halligan hat-trick a helping hand
A jump ball got the third quarter underway with the Stingers launching the first attack of the half.
Both sides once again failed to capitalise on an extra player advantage, something that was becoming a theme throughout a low-scoring affair.
Canada conceded a second penalty and this time, the Australians were able to convert, increasing their lead to three goals, Keesja Gofers unleashing a vicious shot into the top corner.
Canadian coach David Paradelo called the first time-out of the game with a touch over three minutes to play in the third quarter and it paid dividends with Canada working the ball around nicely, resulting in a goal from Joelle Bekhazi.
At 6-4 the Aussies still had the advantage but the tension was clear in what had been an extremely close contest to this point with under three minutes to play in the third period.
Halligan scored her third to restore the three goal cushion for the Stingers, a shot from a tough angle bouncing off the surface of the water and past the Canadian goalkeeper.
The score remained 7-4 heading into the last break with Canada needing to put a serious run together, Yanitsas a giant in the Australian goal.
Australian advantage upheld under pressure
With a one player advantage midway through the final quarter, Australia called a time-out but were unable to replicate Canada’s success, failing to score and leaving the door ajar for a Canadian comeback.
With three minutes to play, Monica Eggens kept her side in with a chance, unleashing a shot from very long range and finding her target, reducing the margin to just two goals.
It was not to be for the Canadians though, as Australian captain Rowie Webster made sure of the win, the score 8-3 with a minute and a half to play.
Neither team added to their total with Australia finishing on top in an important first win in a long Olympic campaign.
Bronte Halligan was exceptional for the Aussies, as was Lea Yanitsas in goal.
For Canada, Monica Eggens caused more than a few headaches for the Stingers but it was not enough as Australia was able to maintain a constant advantage throughout the second half.
Australia 8 ( Halligan 3, Gofers, Knox, Webster, Arancini, Andrews 1)
Canada 5 ( Eggens 3, Bekhazi, Christmas 1)
Just keep swimming
Australia sit top of the group, though that is not saying much given this is the only game so far completed in Group A.
The Stingers will take to the water again in two days time when they run into the Netherlands, which will be the first game of the tournament for the Dutch.
As for Canada, hopes of qualifying for the Quarterfinals remain firmly alive as all they will need to do is stay off the bottom of the group to progress to the knockout stages.
Their next match against Spain will be an important fixture and one they will certainly look to win.
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