(2-3, 2-4, 3-2, 3-6)
Unsurprisingly, Malta found Germany well beyond their reach when the teams faced each other in Saturday’s second match of Group B from the 2023 European Championship qualifying round.
While defeat maybe a disappointing outcome for the home side, however, their hopes of qualification are still firmly in their hands as on Sunday morning they face bottom-side Bulgaria.
A win with a huge goal margin should hand the team, second place in the group but more importantly put them as one of the best three runners-up in the qualifying campaign and a place in the Israel championship next January.
Given the importance of finishing the campaign with a strong goal average, the Maltese boys’ priority against the Germans was a damage-limiting exercise.
The superior technical and physical skills of the visitors were evident, albeit Milan Cirovic’s men stunned their opponents with an explosive start.
The Maltese went for press right from the outset, a ploy that stifled their much-quoted opponents at first and Liam Galea and Nicholas Bugelli gave Malta a 2-0 headstart.
Nikolai Zammit served Galea to draw cheers from the local when he opened the score before Bugelli pounced on a loose ball for a quick counter-thrust to leave the Germans reeling.
Efficient cover at the back limited the Germans’ options to conclude from ideal position.
Jake Muscat was rightly taking the plaudits for his defensive duties as he made crucial blocks to deny Germany three times in quick succession.
The match was dominated by rigid man-to-man shadowing especially from Germany.
The Germans took no time to overturn the scoreline with Yannek Chiru, Zoran Bozic and Maurice Jungling on the mark to finish the first quarter 3-2 ahead.
The Germans’ stringent press was proving costly in terms of expulsion and the Maltese were wasteful in their extra-man sets.
The Germans gradually built a commanding lead at the start of the second session which put them 6-2 ahead. The locals’ shooting from the outside positions was not accurate enough to the point that Jerome Gabarretta, Muscat and Zammit hit the frame in quick succession.
Ironically, it was not Malta who halted the opponents’ momentum but the goal post as the Germans’ woodwork started to lean over and had to be taken down and fixed, causing a 10-minute delay with the match poised at 6-2 for Germany.
Malta reacted well as Muscat and Jayden Cutajar showed their opportunism when scoring Malta’s goals in the second session to cut the deficit to 7-4.
The Maltese had been more than competitive and very much in the contest at that stage. This was underlined in a closely fought third quarter which Malta shaded 3-2 with goals coming from Muscat, Galea and Jamie Gambin to make it 9-7.
In the last session, the mental alertness and physical resistance of the Maltese were now slightly on the wane. The Germans netted four more times through Bozic (2), Niclas Schipper and Aleks Sekulic, with Malta responding through Zammit and Muscat.
But there was no stopping Germany on Saturday who cut their ticket to the European Championship finals.
The class and scoring opportunism of five-goal Bozic was another factor that made the difference. At death, Jeremy Abela put his name in the scoresheet to make a 15-10 win for Germany.
J. Tanti, J. Gabarretta, L. Galea 2, J. Gambin 1, J. Cutajar 1, B. Plumpton, J. Muscat 3, B. Cachia, J. Abela 1, N. Zammit 1, A. Fenech, N. Bugelli 1, N. Grixti.
F. Benke, Z. Bozic 5, F. Korbel, M. Cuk 1, F. Schultz, M. Jungling 2, D. Strelezij 1, Y. Chiru 2, A. Sekulic 2, P. Dollf, N. Schipper 1, M. Gansen 1, K. Gotz.
Referees T. Kaseta (Lithuania), Erwin Schapers (Netherlands).
Bulgaria vs Ukraine 13-23
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