(2-2, 4-3, 2-1, 2-2)
Malta’s hopes to secure their best-ever placing at a European Championship were ended by Slovenia as the latter prevailed 9-6 in the positional play-off in Dubrovnik.
It was a disappointing outcome to a match which saw the Maltese start brightly but their profligacy in front of goal came back to haunt them as they were severely punished by the more accurate Slovenian forwards who managed to take the majority of the opportunities that came their way.
Following this defeat, the national team will now have to play against Israel in the play-off for 15th and 16th place on Saturday.
The first session turned out to be a hard-fought affair with the Slovenians twice surging ahead with goals from Aleksandar Cerar and Aljaz Troppan from a man-up set.
But the Maltese fought back and goals from Jayden Cutajar and Liam Galea ensured the session ended in parity.
The Maltese defended very well in that opening session but the only blemish was our inability to take more advantage from man-up sets.
The second session started well for Cirovic’s boys as excellent goals from Jayden Cutajar and Jake Muscat put the team 4-2 ahead.
However, suddenly the Maltese players lost their touch in attack missing three clear scoring chances. And to that, they paid dearly as the Slovenians managed to pull level through goals by Kadivec and Troppan.
Jake Cachia finally struck with a blinder to restore Malta’s lead.
But the Slovenians hit back as Troppen converted two man-up sets to put his team 6-5 ahead when ends were changed.
The third session was dominated by the Slovenians who managed to punish the Maltese twice early on when Vukasin Stefanovic converted a man-up set before Santak made it 8-5.
The Maltese failed to threaten in attack as they were forced to resort to long-distance shots that failed to hit the target and when Jake Cachia was played through was denied by Slovenia goalkeeper Beton.
Malta finally pulled one back through a penalty converted by Cutajar to head into the final session 8-6 behind.
In the final session, the Maltese continued to miss their scoring opportunities and the Slovenians took full advantage with Stefanovic putting his team in a comfortable three-goal advantage.
With less than three minutes to go Kadivec struck again from a man-up to all but put the game beyond Malta’s reach.
Cutajar pulled one goal back to somehow keep alive Malta’s flickering hopes but they could only manage to add another goal through Cachia as the Slovenians held on for the win.
SLOVENIA: J. Beton, B. Popovic, J. Kadivec 2, M. Canc, J. Lah, V. Stefanovic 2, M. Santak 1, A. Paunovic, J. Seljak, J. Justin, A. Troppan 4, A. Cerar 1, G. Zurbi.
MALTA: J. Tanti, N. Bugelli, L. Galea 1, G. Farrugia, J. Cachia 2, J. Bonavia, J. Muscat 1, J. Cutajar 4, J. Abela, N. Zammit, D. Zammit, M. Azzopardi, B. Busuttil.
Referees H. Schopp (Germany), S. Matijasevic (Montenegro).
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