(2-0, 2-3, 5-1, 3-4)
The Malta U-17 national team are safely through to the knock-out stages of the European Championship finals after they despatched Ukraine in a hard-fought match in Manisa, Turkey.
The Maltese players showed a lot of character to overcome the challenge of a Ukraine side who came into the match after upsetting group favourites Germany 13-12 on Wednesday.
But Milan Cirovic’s boys showed great solidity in their game to move clear of their opponents in the third session and then managed to administer their advantage in the final quarter when the Ukrainians tried to no avail to save the match.
The result ensures that Malta will finish among the top 12 nations in the competition and are likely to face Italy in the cross overs on Friday.
The Maltese produced great defensive play in the opening session as their high press gave little space to the Ukrainian players to threaten their goal.
On the other hand they created a lot of opportunities but were not so precise. But they still managed to take a two-goal lead at the end of the quarter courtesy of Jayden Cutajar penalty conversion and an Elijah Schembri goal with just over a minute to play.
In the second session, Ukraine showed great signs of improvement and managed to level the match with two quick-fire goals from Yarema Artsyshevskyy and Oleh Rudnyk.
The Maltese refused to panic and restored their two-goal lead when they were awarded two penalties which were both converted by Luigi Dimech and Jayden Cutajar.
The Ukrainians responded with a Yurii Chyzhuk long-range shot that bridged the gap to one goal – 4-3 when ends were changed.
Jayden Cutajar could have restored Malta’s two-goal lead from the penalty spot, but his effort was blocked by Ukraine goalkeeper Marko Khytryi.
But the newly-acquired Partizan Belgrade players soon made amends when he beat Khytryi with a thunderous drive.
Dimech then converted another penalty to hand Malta a cushion three-goal lead 6-3.
The Ukrainians were not letting up and Kyrlo Levin netted his team’s fourth goal.
But the Maltese soon reclaimed control of the match as quick-fire goals from Sam Engerer, Schembri and a Jayden Cassar penalty put the team five clear – 9-4 with just one session to go.
In the final session, Malta tried to administer their advantage and Zak Cutajar Licari grabbed the team’s tenth goal to restore the five-goal gap after Levin had pulled one back for Ukraine.
It was all about holding to their lead inside the final three minutes for the Maltese players as the Ukrainian doubled their efforts to save the match but could only bridge the gap to three following goals from Levin and Chernykh but goals from Dimech and Cutajar secured a vital victory for Malta.
MALTA: Z. Dzanovic, S. Engerer 1, J. Valletta, G. Bonavia, J. Cassar 1, D. Bugeja, Z. Cutajar Licari 1, J. Cutajar 4, E. Schembri 2, N. Bonavia, L. Dimech 2, E. Mallia, M. Grech.
UKRAINE: M. Khytryi, M. Len, Y. Artsyshevskyy 1, H. Bodnar, K. Levin 2, O. Rudnyk 1, M. Yarmoliuk, O. Vekliu 1, Y. Hurzhii, A. Chernykh, Y. Karasov, Y. Chyzhuk 1, M. Yunhlin.
Referees: Rajmund Fodor (Hungary), P. Segurana (Spain).
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