United States women's water polo team make more history at FINA World Championships

The Olympic and world water polo champions increased their unbeaten stretch to nine games in a dramatic final against Spain in Gwangju, South Korea.

The United States have become the first team ever to win three-consecutive FINA World Championships water polo titles, beating Spain 11-6 in a rainy women’s final in Gwangju.

Going into the game the atmosphere could hardly have been more dramatic, as a tropical storm descended upon the floodlit, open-air arena during a record breaking Friday in Korea.

Defending champions and two-time consecutive Olympic gold medallists USA dominated the early exchanges and opened their account after two minutes through a powerful Margaret Steffens shot.

But that goal seemed to stir the shell-shocked Spaniards into life, and they leveled the game almost immediately through Beatriz Ortiz Munoz.

It was then USA goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson’s turn to be under the cosh, but she dealt with almost everything the Spanish attack could muster.

The breakthrough

Paige Hauschild eventually scored a breakthrough goal for Team USA, which was quickly followed by a third from Stephania Haralabidis, meaning the two-time defending champions took a 3-1 into the first quarter break.

This was a repeat match up of the 2017 final and Spain, eager to avenge that loss, came out firing in the second quarter, Roser Tarrago Aymerich catching the USA defence napping to make it 3-2.

Aymerich then added her second of the game to level proceedings as the Europeans started to grow in confidence.

It stayed level for the next few minutes until Rio 2016 Olympic champion Makenzie Fischer put USA back in front with an impressive goal from a tricky angle.

Melissa Seidemann then scored a goal in the last play of the half to give the Olympic champions a two goal buffer at 5-3 and some crucial momentum heading into the break.

Just as with the first break however, Spain came out aggressively and won the sprint to the ball through Aymerich.

But some resolute defending from Team USA quickly turned defence into attack and Aria Fischer profited at the other end with a well-taken goal to make it 6-3.

With daylight between the teams, USA started to pass the ball around like they had Velcro attached to their hands, the ball never touching the water around the Spanish goalmouth.

Eventually Olympic gold medallist Rachel Fattal unleashed a stinging, long-range shot that Spanish keeper M Garcia Godoy never even touched, to make it 7-3.

Looking for the killer blow, Kiley Neushul scored a quick double at the end of the third quarter to make it 9-3, and the champions knew history was in sight.

Things could have been a lot worse for Spain going into the fourth quarter, as goalkeeper Garcia Godoy had been pulling off some impressive saves to keep the score line respectable.

At the start of the fourth quarter Spain knew it was now or never and Aymerich scored the opening goal to make it 9-4.

Steffens reinstalled USA’s buffer to make it 10-4, but Spain refused to lie down.

Judith Forca Ariza fired in to make it 10-5, as the mostly Korean fans started clapping in unison to encourage the underdogs.

But then came a stunning long rang shot from Neushul to seal her hat-rick, making it 11-5 to USA and effectively sealing the FINA World Championship 2019 title.

Chants of ‘USA, USA, USA’ now started a pocket of about 20 fans dressed in red, white and blue in the back of the stands.

With one minute to go Munoz closed the game just as she opened it with a goal to make the final score 11-6 to the USA.

Spain showed heart and as expected, never took a backwards step against their vastly more experienced opponents.

However, the United States simply oozed class and had a different gear to slip into, should they desperately need a goal.

Their third straight world title moves them a step closer to the triple-double.

Team USA have already qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, by virtue of victory in the World Super League Final in June.

On Saturday, Spain have another chance to win water polo world gold through their men’s team, who will take on Italy in the final.

As always, Olympic Channel will be on site providing you all the latest updates, news and features from our Gwangju 2019 live blog.

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