Two goals from water polo superstar Ekaterina Prokofyeva have given Russia a nerve-shredding 18-17 win over China at the Tokyo Olympics. After a five-year wait, can they go better than their bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games?
One of the first matches of the Olympics looks destined to be remembered as a classic, with an end-to-end thriller in Tatsumi standing at 6-5 to China in the second corner after China keeper Lin Peng saved an Elvina Karimova penalty.
Russia keeper Evgeniia Golovina was unable to prevent Guannan Niu from swiftly scoring twice, only for Veronika Vakhitova and Anna Timofeeva to keep their side level in an unpredictable, all-action clash.
2018 Best Female Player of the Year Ekaterina Prokoyeva had a significant part to play at both ends. First, the Russia captain scored an own-goal when a shot hit a post and ended up in the net off the back of her head.
After China went two goals ahead in the third quarter, Russia made it 11-11 and went ahead for the first time through Evgeniya Ivanova’s effort before Prokofyeva scored from long range.
VAR was involved as China brought it back to 14-14, then Prokofyeva netted with two excellent attempts to ensure that the final strike was only a consolation.
Two-time European champion Prokoyeva shared her joy and the plaudits afterwards. “We have been waiting for five years,” she had said beforehand, having been one of several players to have featured in 2016.
Long-serving Timofeeva won her first medal with Russia when she took bronze at the World Championships in 2009.
“Five years have passed since the last Olympic Games,” she reflected. “Five years have passed since the head coach of the national team asked me, ‘will you survive another Olympic cycle?”
“And I answered: ‘What are you [saying]? Of course not.’ Five years have flown by like one day.
“Now we again represent our camp at the games that every athlete dreams of.
Life is an unpredictable thing.”
Appearing at all five Olympics women’s water polo tournaments, Russia have gone the longest without winning the title and have the most bronze medals, earning the first of their two third-placed finishes in 2000.
The USA have dominated, winning the two most recent titles as part of a haul comprising two gold medals, two silver and one bronze.
Italy, Austria and the Netherlands also won the title before the Americans’ current period of dominance, with Greece and Spain each finishing as runners-up once.
Russia began their 2020 campaign with a training camp in Long Beach, California.