RIO DE JANEIRO – USA became the first women’s water polo team to successfully defend their Olympic title after beating Italy 12-5 (4-1, 1-2, 4-1, 3-1) in the gold medal match at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Friday.
The world champions, who have won every major tournament in which they have participated since the start of 2014, were never really troubled by Athens 2004 Olympic Games champions Italy despite losing the second quarter 2-1.
It was Courtney MATHEWSON, one of the four USA players who also won gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games, who opened the scoring before Federica RADICCHI levelled for Italy.
The Italians were attempting to play a physical defensive press but struggled to subdue the powerful US attack as Kiley NEUSHUL, Kami CRAIG and Makenzie FISCHER all found the net to hand USA a commanding 4-1 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Roberta BIANCONI and a second goal from RADICCHI reduced the deficit for Italy but Rachel FATTAL netted for USA to keep them ahead at halftime 5-3.
NEUSHUL and FATTAL extended USA’s lead to 7-3 at the start of the third quarter and when Ashleigh JOHNSON saved a penalty from BIANCONI it was always going to take something special for Italy to find a way back into the match.
Goals from Melissa SEIDEMANN and captain Maggie STEFFENS piled on the misery for Italy and with the score 9-4 going into the final period it was clear the gold medal was staying with the USA.
FISCHER, Madeline MUSSELMAN then NEUSHUL extended USA’s lead in the fourth quarter as they ran out comfortable 12-5 winners to break the record for most goals scored by a team in an Olympic women’s final and setting the highest winning margin for a final.
Before the match, the media named USA’s STEFFENS as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and Johnson the best goalkeeper. With their performances in the final, both justified their selection, especially JOHNSON, who saved nine of the 13 shots fired at her.