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Man-up struggles condemn Malta to Slovakia defeat

(3-1, 2-1, 1-2, 2-0)

The Malta waterpolo national team produced a much-improved showing at the European Championships but this was still not enough to overcome Slovakia in the positional play-offs at the Dunai Arena in Budapest.

Malta have never managed to beat the Slovakians at the European Championships but the team yesterday produced arguably their best performance in Budapest so far, as they remained in the match until the final session only to concede defeat when conceding two quick-fire goals from the Slovakians that settled the match.

But coach Karl Izzo was pleased with the reaction of his players from Saturday’s disappointing 26-0 defeat to Hungary as the players showed great defensive organisation, with goalkeeper Nicky Grixti again standing out with some fine saves.

Steve Camilleri played his best match of the championship after scoring all four of his team’s goals but our biggest problem remain the man-up sets with the team scoring just one of seven numerical advantages.

“I agree that this was a very good performance from the team,” Izzo told the Times of Malta.

“Unfortunately, the result was not what we wanted. We lost too many man-ups today because we rushed when we needed to conclude our attacks. But the team was compact and all the players showed that they are behind me.”

Now, Malta have one final assignment against the Netherlands in the play-off for 15th place tomorrow.

The Dutch team were beaten by France 9-7.

Izzo says his team will start the match against the Netherlands as the underdogs.

“Our next match is going to be another difficult test,” Izzo said.

“The Netherlands are a team that are always improving and they have great ambition to qualify for the Olympic Games.

“But after today’s match I feel that we showed that we are capable of giving them a good run for their money. 

“Today, the players provided the right response after the Hungary debacle and showed that they deserved to be playing in these championships and hopefully we can further show that we too are improving.”

There was little separating the two teams in the first sessions as both sets of defences seemed to be holding the edge. In fact no goals were scored in the first two minutes.

The Slovaks needed a long-range Juraj Zatovic long-range shot to take the lead. 

Camilleri strike

But the Maltese soon responded through Steve Camilleri who also found the net with a shot from outside to restore parity.

Slovakia managed to take control of the match with two late strikes from Marek Molnar and Zatovic to take a two-goal advantage.

At the start of the second session, Malta could have pulled one back from a man-up set but Jerome Gabaretta hit the post and the Slovaks soon went on a swift break with Samuel Balaz firing home.

The Maltese kept fighting and they bridged the gap when Jerome Camilleri won a penalty and his brother Steve made no mistake to bring the score to 4-2. 

The match remained on an even keel with both sides failing to add to their tally until Maros Tkac restored his team’s three-goal lead at the break.

In the third session, Malta were continuing to defend well but the Slovakians were making all the difference with their sharp-shooting from beyond the six-meter line and it was in fact Juraj Zatovic who hit the target to make it 6-2. 

Malta’s aspirations of trying to bridge the gap in the match was not being helped by the team’s poor shooting.

It was Steve Camilleri who finally put the team back on the mark when converting a man-up.

The Slovaks seemed to be struggling and Malta managed to bridge the gap again through Steve Camilleri to somewhat reopen the match – 6-4.

Any hopes of a Malta fightback were quickly dispelled by Slovakia early in the fourth session as Zatovic beat Grixti at his near post before Martin Kolarik made it 8-4. 

That double blow all but settled the match as the Maltese were showing signs of tiredness and that reflected in their poor conversion rate from man-ups.

SLOVAKIA: T. Hoferia, M. Caraj, J. Zatovic 4, A. Furamn, A. Mitruk, M. Molnar 1, M. Tkac 1, T. Bieli, A. Kovacik, M. Kolarik 1, S. Balaz 1, L. Kozmer.
MALTA: N. Grixti, J. Gabarretta, A. Galea, G. Pace, Darren Zammit, M. Zammit, S. Camilleri 4, J. Camilleri, J. Abela, A. Cousin, B. Plumpton, D. Zammit, A. Borg Cole.
Referees: A. Alexandrescu (Romani), G. Kun (Hungary).

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