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Watch: Rampant Malta crush Bulgaria to seal fifth successive qualification to Euro finals

Jake Muscat shoots at goal against Bulgaria. Photo: Jonathan Borg



(4-0, 9-1, 3-0, 6-3)

The Malta national waterpolo team went on a rampage against Bulgaria in the last match of Group B of the 2023 European Championship qualifying round to clinch a fifth consecutive qualification to the tournament finals.

This result have further underlined the great progress our country has made in this sport.

The qualification was obtained with a largely rejuvenated Malta side, which did not lose its winning touch.

Apart from Stevie Camilleri and Matthew Zammit, both of whom have retired from national team duties, the team were also without the talismanic Jerome Gabarretta for the match against Bulgaria.

Malta gradually wore down their opponents mentally to end on top note after showing the visitors a clean pair of heels in the second session.

With only the three second-placed teams from all four qualifying groups winning a place in the finals, the Maltese youngsters waited impatiently for the result of the match between Portugal and Poland in Group A.

In the end, the Portuguese preailed 19-12 against the Polish side to finish with an inferior goal average of +7 against Malta’s +20 that confirmed Cirovic’s boys place in the finals in Israel early next year. 

At the end of the match, Malta coach Milan Cirovic argued that Malta’s rejuvenating process was on the right track.

 “When I took over earlier this year, I pledged to push the youngsters in the national team. If it is not me, who else is going to show confidence in their abilities?” he asked.

“We qualified for the Tele Aviv games but still I am not 100 per cent satisfied as against Germany, we could have done things better in certain situations,” an insatiable Cirovic said.

No wonder, ASA president Karl Izzo was delighted after his team beat Bulgaria with more than something to spare.

“We reached the target we have been after. The future of waterpolo is very bright and we are on the right track. The home-grown hopes gave a great contribution in this tournament and I firmly believe that Cirovic’s aggressive and fast team craft our rejuvenating process to perfection,” said Izzo who passed on the baton of national coach to Cirovic after 4 straight European championships qualifications.

It was a heartening display by the Maltese national team since, it must be said, that the squad included some promising and untried elements with 20-year-old Jake Bonavia making his senior debut with a hat-trick and Jayden Cutajar, 15, scoring six goals in the whole tournament.

Malta made their intentions clear from the outset. The game had barely started when Jamie Gambin was already on the mark.  That goal after 34 seconds set the tone for the match.

Stanislav Raykov’s goal was breached again soon after when Nikolai Zammit made it 2-0 for Malta.

Bonavia replaced injured Jerome Gabaretta and the young San Ġiljan player immediately repaid Cirovic’s faith in him by scoring Malta’s third.

After that goal, Bonavia swam with far greater confidence than any of his markers to increase Malta’s tally to four goals.

Malta were back in scoring mode in the second eight minutes as they hit in nine goals to change ends with a 13-1 lead.

The Red-capped players’ swimming on the flanks and crisp transfer of the ball found no response from the Bulgarian side. The duo Bonavia/Nicholas Bugelli on the left flank and Alec Fenech/Jayden Cutajar on the right found goal-ace Zammit with ease, to increase the advantage to 12 goals with two quarters to go.

With qualification dependable on results elsewhere, Malta could not afford to go casual. Jake Muscat finally opened his scoring account in the third session with Cutajar reaching a hat-trick and Zammit scoring his fifth goal. 

Bulgaria were rarely allowed space for a steady pot at goal and when they managed a shot, the Reds’ rearguard invariably blocked these efforts.

In the fourth session, Cirovic gave second choice goalkeeper Nicky Grixti time to shine.

Muscat kept piling up the goals for Malta as he grabbed a poker. Cutajar scored a hat-trick, Galea hit a five-metre throw as Zammit finished the chief scorer with six goals before Ben Plumpton put his name on the scoresheet.

Malta ended on top note to win the last part of the game convincingly for a deserved victory. They did so despite, having less vociferous support from the stands, all waiting for the Portugal-Poland result.

MALTA: J. Tanti, J. Bonavia 3, L. Galea 2, J. Gambin 1, J. Cutajar 3, B. Plumpton 1, J. Muscat 4, B. Cachia, J. Abela, N. Zammit 6, A. Fenech 1, N. Bugelli 1, N. Grixti.

BULGARIA: S. Raykov, M. Metodiev 1, N. Dimitrov, S. Ivanov, M. Valkov, M. Donchev 1, S. Iliev 1, F. Slavov, K. Uzunov, D. Stankov, A. Velkov 1, B. Torosov.   

Referees: Lukas Krol (Poland), Erwin Schapers (Netherlands).

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