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Malta U-19 slam past Georgia to secure a top 10 finish in European Championships

MALTA              10

GEORGIA         7

(2-2, 2-2, 2-2, 4-1)

Malta’s Under-19 waterpolo national team kicked off their positional playoffs on Thursday with a win against Georgia in Podgorica. This means they now face the Netherlands once again, this time in another positional playoff for the ninth or tenth place.

It was largely a balanced affair with both sides ruing missed chances as goalkeepers played a vital part in proceedings, stopping numerous shots from both ends.

Georgia took the lead in the second minute of the game through Giorgi Kiriakidi before Malta captain Jake Bonavia scored a stunning equaliser from distance three minutes later, a deserved way back into the game after holding most of possession in the opening stages of the game.

However, lack of clinical finishing gave room for Georgia to go back ahead with four minutes left in the first quarter as Davit Chkheidze hit a shot that was too strong for goalkeeper Andrew Bugeja to stop.

Malta’s reply came from a five-metre shot by Gianni Farrugia that slammed the upright before going in.

A flurry of efforts hitting the posts characterised the rest of the quarter as both sides went to regroup all square at 2-2.

Malta finally took their first lead after patient play to look for an opening, before the ball was led to Mark Castillo who fired into the net in the second minute of the second session.

Georgia recovered a minute later through a Besarion Akhvlediani goal amid a closely placed defence.

The Maltese youngsters continued their strategy of possessional play, moving the ball around from one side to another but Georgian goalkeeper Georgi Chagelishvili was in top form to stop numerous shots. In spite of this, patience proved key as Farrugia scored from close range after a lobbed pass.

A penalty could have added to Malta’s lead but once more, Chagelishvili blocked Alec Fenech’s shot. This fueled the Georgians who pushed forward and regained parity at 4-4 through Aleksandre Mikautadze who slammed into the net from close in. They were close to taking the lead themselves straight after, but officials annulled their goal as the whistle had been blown for a foul before the shot.

Right before the break, Georgia keeper Chagelishvili was the hero yet again with another penalty saved, this time stopping an effort from Sam Gialanze.

Read: Greece end Malta U-19’s dreams of top eight finish at European Championships

Georgia retook the lead in the third quarter through Giorgi Eristavi as they piled the pressure on Malta. This nearly paid off as Gialanze fired in a cannon of a shot into the angle which slammed the upright but was adjudged to have stooped on the imaginary line.

Malta made amends anyway in the third minute with Fenech’s shot from the right undoubtedly in the net this time as the sides were again level at 5-5.

A five-metre shot from Farrugia hit the post but Fenech made no mistake with the rebound to fire in as Malta took the lead for the first time in the second half.

It was an intense finale to the third quarter as Akhvlediani brought Georgia back level yet again with less than a minute to go.

The final set of minutes was to determine the faith of the game as both sides had been at par throughout the encounter. Malta once again opened the scoring in the quarter with a counter-attack goal from Matthew Mifsud.

A penalty from Mifsud gave Malta some breathing space as they were now two goals ahead before Jake Cachia added another to crush the Georgian’s spirit with less than two minutes remaining.

Chkheidze scored his team’s first goal in the final quarter but Malta made it 10-7 with 15 seconds left through a Farrugia effort before the final buzzer gave Malta the win.

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