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Malta end commitments in SportMalta Christmas Cup with rough loss to Netherlands

Malta fell to the Netherlands in their final game of the SportMalta Christmas Cup. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

MALTA  7

NETHERLANDS 21

(1-5, 4-6, 2-5, 0-5)

MALTA J. Tanti, A. Fenech, L. Galea 1, J. Zerafa Gregory, S. Gialanze, G. Farrugia, J. Muscat 2, J. Bonavia, N. Zammit 1, D. Zammit, N. Bugelli 1, B. Busuttil, M. Azzopardi 1, J. Cachia 1.

NETHERLANDS T. Huijsmans, B. Gradamassi 2, J. Rouwenhorst , F. Kastrop , G. Van Ijperen 3 , T. De Mey 2, K. Te Riele 4 , J. Nispelling, J. Muller, T. De Weerd 4 , J. Koopman, L. Ten Broek 5, J. Westerveld, S. Van Den Burg, J. Van Der Weijden 2.

Referees: Massimo Angileri, Stefan Licari

Given the gulf in class between the two sides, it was too much to expect a positive result against the Netherlands as Malta suffered a crushing defeat in their final game of the SportMalta Christmas Cup. Yet, the local waterpolo fans may be excused to regard this match as an anti-climax following yesterday’s commendable display against France.

For the Netherlands, this was supposed to be cooling-off match at the end of the tournament, or so one thought. Their task of gauging their strength against superior opposition – Italy and France – had been accomplished with two hard-fought displays.

However, it turned out to be another mauling as Malta were again submerged under an avalanche of goals against strong opponents who could well aspire for a high-ranking place in Croatia next month.

In this scenario, Malta’s priority was to keep the morale high after their creditable result against France.

Milan Cirovic’s tactical cunning and the enthusiasm of his young players saw the Maltese fighting admirably in the past three days. Given their already thin resources, Cirovic must have been at his wits’ end trying to rotate his units and using his tournament to make up his mind on who deserves to make the cut for Zagreb. Yet his decision to leave out Ben Plumpton, Jayden Cutajar and Mark Castillo backfired dramatically yesterday.

The Netherlands were off to a ruthless opening. They were 5-1 up as Lars Ten Brooke opened his account – he eventually reached five goals at the match – and Malta were already up against and unable to shake off the Oranje’s stringent press.

Although the loose covering in front of Benjamin Busuttil – given his chance to shine – was not remedied in the second quarter, at least Malta shared the goals with their opponents when the Netherlands shaded the session 5-4. Malta’s goals until then were by Jake Muscat, Liam Galea, Nicholas Bugelli, Nikolai Zammit and Matthias Azzopardi with a specular backhand.

The third quarter had closed on 11-7 with Muscat and Jake Cachia scoring for Malta. Although the Maltese were determined to finish to a respectable result, further misery was heaped as the Netherlands kept up their uncompromising momentum to strike five more times.

Later on, expectations were met as Italy swept past France to win the SportMalta Christmas Cup 2023 with three wins.

The FINA World Cup finalists swam all over their neighbours France with an exquisite 20- 3 margin.

This was not how the spectators at the Cottonera pool thought the final would be played out.

Italy opened the scoring with Andrea Fondelli before claiming a 5-1 lead before the quarter-break margin.

Come the second quarter, Lorenzo Bruni came to the fore with a hat-trick as Italy went 12-2 up before the change of ends.

Italy rocketed in three more in the third session with Bruni grabbing a fourth. In the final session, while Italy kept piling up the goals, France could not breach the fantastic shot-blocking of Italy.

OTHER RESULT

ITALY 20

FRANCE 3

(5-1, 7-1, 3-1, 4-0)

ITALY M. Del Lungo, F. Condemi 4, L. Damonte , L. Marziali 1, A. Fondelli 3, A.Vellotti 1, V. Renzuto Iodice 1, O. Gonzalo Echenique 1, N. Presciutti 2, L. Bruni 5, E. di Somma 1 , V. Dolce 1, G. Nicosia.

FRANCE A. Hovhannisyan, R. Saudadier, U. Crousillat 1, A. Bouet , E. Khasz, T. Vernoux 1, R. Marion Vernoux 1, E. Bjorch, M. Marzouki, M. Bodegas , P. Vanpeperstraete, A. De Nardi, H. Fontani.

Referees: Peter Balzan, Ronnie Spiteri

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