Australia gained a welcome confidence boost after defeating South Africa in the final group game 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.
Staunch South African defence subdues Stingers
South Africa won the swim-off in what would be their last match of their first ever appearance in the Women’s Water Polo event at the Olympics.
It was a slow start with neither team able to hit the scoreboard in their first couple of possessions, South Africa succumbing to the shot clock in one of them.
While their offence started slow, the South African defence was holding up early, causing consistent turnovers from the fancied Australians.
Back-to-back exclusions against Australia gave South Africa good opportunities, but the Australian defence was already proving to be difficult to crack. Australia’s high defensive line meaning it was difficult for the South Africans to get a shot away.
Australia eventually opened the scoring late in the first, Zoe Arancini beating the South African keeper for her fifth of the tournament.
It would be the only goal for the quarter in what was easily South Africa’s most competitive stretch of Water Polo for the competition.
The African side had a combined deficit of 77 goals across their first three games but were proving resolute in the face of danger against the Stingers.
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Aussies sting in second term
The Stingers did not hold back at the start of the second, winning the swim-off and immediately launching into their offensive rhythm.
It paid dividends as Arancini again fired home and doubled the lead with the first possession of the quarter.
Australia remained locked in defensively, immediately causing a shot-clock violation on the return possession, launching into a fast-break of its own.
A no-look backhand attempt from South Africa drew a save out of Australian keeper Gabriella Palm who immediately grabbed the ball and launched a counter-attack, leading to Australia’s third goal.
Amy Ridge converted her second, taking advantage of a South African defence that had dropped off massively since the end of the first quarter, the score now out to 4-0.
After a tactical time-out by South African coach Delain Mentoor, South Africa opened its account for the night, a well executed set play leading to a tap in from Ashleigh Vaughn.
Australia received the first penalty shot of the game but Lena Mihailovic’s shot was saved brilliantly by Meghan Maartens, the score remaining close at 4-1.
Mihailovic made up for the miss by scoring on the next possession but despite the lead, it was the South African performance that was drawing all the plaudits.
This side had conceded 83 goals across the first three games so to be down just four nearing half-time against an Australia team tipped to medal was impressive in itself.
The Aussies had found their groove though, captain Rowie Webster and Bronte Halligan adding to their tournament tallies and ensuring the game remained out of reach for South Africa.
Stingers poised to take the points
Ellie Armit wasted no time in extending the lead in the second half, scoring from the first possession.
The Stingers had to work hard for their second of the half, an exclusion coming with four minutes remaining in the third allowing Keesja Gofers to fashion a shot from close range.
A second exclusion led to the third goal of the quarter to Australia, the lead now nearing double digits at 10-1.
South Africa’s resistance was beginning to fade as the Australian press on the defensive end was relentless, not allowing South Africa to get close enough to shoot.
An exclusion the other way gave South Africa a chance but even with the numerical advantage they were unable to get through the Aussies who were only growing in confidence.
Bronte Halligan bagged her second, skimming one off the water past the South African keeper and the third quarter came to a close, Australia 10 goals to the good with the score 11-1.
Olympic spirit on full show as Stingers seal the win
Meghan Maartens repeated her first half heroics, saving yet another penalty as Australia pressed to extend its lead.
The Stingers found the net through Abby Andrews’ first of the night, the 20-year-old scoring from range to begin the final quarter of the group stage.
A second quickly followed for the Aussies as Hannah Buckling scored her fifth of the tournament, Australia well and truly on top in the latter stages of the match.
With the score 13-1, South Africa continued to fight, but the toll of the first half fight was showing as Australia began to completely dominate the affair, nullifying any South African attacks to end the game.
The final siren sounded and it was Australia that ran out 13 point winners, the score at the end of the game 14-1.
It was a comfortable victory for the Aussies but South Africa will go home proud of its final game efforts, showing immense improvement on its earlier performances.
Meghan Maartens was the standout for the underdogs, showing immense resilience in the South African goal.
For the Aussies, it was a strong hit-out to close a successful group stage, finishing equal first in the group.
They will await the announcement of their opponents in the knockout round with baited breath but for now will have to be content with what has been an excellent start to an important Olympic campaign.
The moment of the night came when 23-year-old Hannah Calvert swam on to replace Maartens in goal, giving the youngster a shot in the pool at her country’s first Olympics and allowing Maartens to get the reception she deserved.
It was a night that exhibited the true spirit of the Olympics, the South African side erupting into cheers of celebration at the close of play for the sheer achievement of participating in Women’s Water Polo for the first time in the Olympic Games.
Women’s Water Polo Final Score:
Australia 14 (Ridge, Gofers, Halligan, Arancini, Mihailovic 2, Buckling, Armit, Webster, Andrews 1)
South Africa 1 (Vaughn 1)
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