(2-5, 3-3, 3-2, 5-1)
The Malta waterpolo national team secured a historic first-ever victory in the group stages of a European Championship in the most dramatic of circumstances when they came back from three goals down to stun Israel in Zagreb.
It looked as though it was not going to be Malta’s day after a poor first session showing which saw the team lose Mark Castillo for brutality and slump 5-2 behind after a sloppy defensive display.
But despite having the odds stacked firmly against them, the Maltese youngsters kept believing and managed to gradually reduce Israel’s advantage to one goal at the start of the final session.
And then, the Maltese clicked top gear as they managed to turn the game around through the scoring prowess of Sam Gialanze, Jake Muscat and Jayden Cutajar to grab a vital win that ensures that Malta avoids bottom spot in the group for the first time but more importantly have a more favourable draw in the positional play-offs where they hope to at least match the 14th placing attained two years ago.
Things looked dim early on as in the opening session, Malta were a pale shadow of the team that performed so well against Germany, as the team’s defensive play left much to be desired.
Sam Gialanze had given the team the perfect start with a fine strike.
However, the Israelis soon turned the match in their favour when they profited from some poor marking by the Maltese palyers to race into a 3-1 lead with goals from Or Schlein, Ronen Gros and Tom Grundyland.
Jayden Cutajar pulled a goal back from a penalty but the Israelis managed to further stretch their lead with goals from Schlein and Vlad Begin to take a 5-2 lead.
The second session started on the wrong foot for Malta as Mark Castillo was sent off for brutality after a VAR review for violent play with Gros converting the penalty and put the Israelis four goals ahead. Added to that, Castillo’s sanction left the team with a player less for the next four minutes.
The Maltese youngsters tried to fight back and Gialanze grabbed his second of the match from a penalty to reduce the gap to 6-3.
Rendler added Israel’s seventh goal but the Maltese crucially managed to trim the gap twice through a fine strike from Cutajar and a Gialanze penalty for 7-5.
Gros grabbed a crucial goal from a man-up for Israel to hand them an 8-5 lead when ends were changed.
Malta needed to recover goals at the start of the third session but the national team spurned three clear chances early on much to the frustration of Cirovic.
A timely time-out from the Malta coach did the trick as Nikolai Zammit converted a man-up to bridge the gap at 8-6 but Gros soon restored Israel’s three-goal lead.
Muscat re-lit Malta’s hopes with a fine-angled strike to make it 9-7 before Gialanze hit a humdinger to make it a one-goal game.
However, Rendler’s lob beat Tanti at the death to put Israel 10-8 ahead with one session to go.
Muscat converted a penalty inside the first two minutes of the final session to get his team back into the match but Dor Koter immediately responded for Israel from one metre out to put Israel 11-9 ahead.
The Maltese kept pushing and Jeremy Abela tapped the ball in from a metre out.
Israel missed a costly penalty when Gros hit the post and Malta managed to equalise through a low drive by Zammit.
There was more drama as with 56 seconds to go Israel no.6 was sent off for brutality for elbowing Muscat and the Maltese were awarded a penalty that was converted by the Neptunes player to put them 12-11 ahead.
With 30 seconds to go, Malta managed to reclaim possession and administered the ball in the final stages before Jayden Cutajar added another goal to cap an incredible fightback by the Malta national team.
J. Tanti, G. Farrugia, L. Galea, M. Castillo, S. Gialanze 4, J. Bonavia, J. Muscat Melito 3, J. Cutajar 3, J. Abela 1, N. Zammit 2, D. Zammit, M. Azzopardi, B. Busuttil.
Y. Fire, O. Schlein 2, R. Gros 4, Y. Klarfeld, V. Begin 1, T. Fotin, K. Halevy, I. Goldschmidt, D. Koter 1, Y. Rendler 2, O. Buzaglo, T. Grundlyand 1, M. Smirnov.
World Cup News
/ 22 hours ago
Three German ex-top football officials went on trial on Monday in a 13.7-million-euro ($14.8...
/ 3 days ago
Saudi Arabia formally launched its bid to host the 2034 World Cup on Friday,...