HIGHLIGHTS: USA Women Overcome Physical China; Men, Unconventional Japan


Adam Krikorian was becoming more agitated on the sideline at some of the decisions, or lack of, and he gained a yellow card for his efforts. – Fina.org

If a 3-3 tie versus Japan in the first quarter was troublesome for the world’s best women’s water polo team, then an encounter with one of the most physical opponents in recent history was even more disconcerting for Team USA. The Americans eventually finished their second match of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics versus China on the leading end of a 12-7 victory, but not before a bloodied nose for Maggie Steffens, a frustratingly grabby performance from a very improved Chinese side, and a yellow-card scolding for Krikorian.

It was a “wake up call,” if you believe in that kind of thing, for the Americans who so rarely find themselves in competitive games. As usual it was defense that drove their second-half scoring run (six to China’s one), the Yanks applying pressure that appeared to sap the strength of the Chinese, who were shooting as effectively as any American opponent in recent memory, but whose bench can’t match those of Krikorian’s team (whose can?).

They emerge with a 2-0 record and face Hungary on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the US men were treated as subjects of a lab experiment and nearly didn’t make it. The Japanese, known for their quirky (bizarre?) tactics over the past half decade turned up the weirdness to 11 on Tuesday. Their exceptionally high-risk system, which invites the opponent to take “inside water” while relying on very tight discipline, stymied the US for much of the first half and beyond. Similarly, at the opposite end of the pool, the Americans appeared unprepared for the quickness of the Japanese, who left the center position unfilled and ran endless picks and drives that knocked Team USA off balance.

You may have noticed that we implemented a new system on defence. In the first half it worked well but we were not able to keep it going. We will keep doing it and eliminating our mistakes. Other team might not cope with this system. – Yoji Omoto, Japan Men’s Head Coach

That steep learning curve peaked and the Americans were able to put together much improved defense and better shooting, which deflated Japan and its shallower bench. An 8-5 second half turned the deficit in to a surplus at the end of the exhausting match, 15-13. Next come the South Africans, who have struggled in Olympic competition in recent years and should present the US with fewer headaches.