(0-2, 2-1, 6-3, 3-1)
The Malta women’s waterpolo national team saw their hopes fo qualification suffer a huge blow when they were beaten by Bulgaria in their opening qualifying match in Burgas.
Aurelien Cousin’s girls started brightly but could not keep that positive early momentum as they were made to pay by the home side who grew in stature as the minutes passed to score a crucial victory that puts them in a strong position for a top-two finish in Group A.
The Maltese will now need to upset group favourites Slovakia in Saturday’s match to keep alive their hopes of an historic qualification to the European Championship finals.
Malta had started brightly as they bossed proceedings in the first session as the Bulgarians took some time to settle down in front of the home crowd.
Goals from Martha Perici Ferrante and Francesca Paolella gave the Maltese a 2-0 advantage.
But the Bulgarians hit back in the second session as quick-fire goals from Anna Gesheva and Michaela Naneva levelled matters.
Kaia Agius put Malta back in front from routine distance before ends were changed.
The game changed completely from the third session, as the Bulgarians came to the fore as goals from Naneva, Tsvetelina Bizheva and Ivo Dimitrova put them 5-3 ahead. Agius grabbed er second of the match to put the team one goal behind – 5-4.
But Melania Hristova struck three times in quick succession with Malta’s only response coming from Denise Micallef to leave the hosts 7-5 ahead.
Here, Agius missed a penalty and Naneva put Bulgaria three goals up befor Kendra Navarro reduced the gap to 8-6 before the final session.
Bulgaria quickly extinguished any hopes of a Malta comeback when scoring twice at the start of hte final quarter with Perici Ferrante keeping alive the visitors’ hopes with a second goal.
But it was Bulgaria who had the final say with a dubious goal from Naneva as her lob seemed to have not passed the goalline.
However, that made little difference as the Bulgarians were long home and dry.
MALTA: K. Agius, E. Montfort 1, E. Amato, K. Navarro 1, M. Perici Ferrante 2, L. Cachia, F. Paolella 1, K. Agius 1, D. Micallef 1, A. Bonello, Z. Bartolo, N. Azzopardi, K. Plumpton.
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