NZ water polo women miss out on historic world quarters berth

Wilson Longhurst
Source: 1News

No one in the New Zealand women’s water polo team was born the last time they made it into the top eight at the FINA World Championships.

Overnight, they have fallen just shy of becoming the first Kiwi side ever to make the quarter-finals since 1991, beaten by France 14-13 in penalty shootout at the competition in Budapest, Hungary.

"I’m gutted to be honest," goalkeeper Jessica Milicich, who made eight key saves, said.

"They’re a good team so it’s not like we didn’t play well or anything, we worked so hard to be here, so it’s just hard."

The loss was difficult to swallow for the New Zealanders, after they led much of the match. The French turned on the heat to eventually go ahead approaching the final minutes.

Two late goals from Auckland left-hander Bernadette Doyle saw the score drawn at 9-9 in the crucial match, with the winner to face Italy in the quarter-finals.

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But it wasn’t to be, a single missed shot in the shoot-out deciding New Zealand’s fate and sending them to the 9th-12th bracket.

"We have to focus now for the top 10 finish and if we achieve that, it will be a good result for us," coach Angie Winstanley-Smith said.

"The most important thing is to recover tonight; it will be emotional and really tough, because it is a really long journey for us to get here and we could stay strong together."

New Zealand will now play Argentina for a spot in the playoff for 9th, a good result key to proving they’re in the running to make the Olympics for the first time at Paris 2024.

"Hopefully if we win that it’ll still be our best finish in the modern era and to make top 10, 10 teams go to the Olympics so we’re sort of on the right path,” Milicich told 1News.

Read more: NZ women’s water polo team pursue Olympic history after drought

Nineteen-year-old Morgan McDowall scored an impressive five goals for the Kiwis.

"Honestly, I am really proud of our performance, and we were doing well in the field all of the game. We’re bummed a bit right now, because we worked hard for this. I think we actually played really well and we gave all we had," McDowall said.

This tournament represents the New Zealand women’s teams first international tests since late 2019.

The side received rare High Performance Sport New Zealand funding last year in a bid for a bid to make it to Paris 2024.

No New Zealand team has ever competed at the Olympics, despite the sport being played at every Games since 1900.