SAN GILJAN 13
(4-5, 3-1, 2-1, 4-3)
SAN GILJAN J. Tanti, P. Borg 2, A. Galea 3, N. Schiavone, R. Caruana, M. Zammit , B. Plumpton 4 , D. Tully, J. Bonavia 2, N. Zammit 1, D. Zammit, N. Bugelli 1, G. Vassallo, M. Ortoleva, D. Fero.
SLIEMA N. Grixti, J. Gabaretta, L. Galea 2, D. Rizzo, M. Meli 1, B. Cachia, J. Cutajar 1, M. Mifsud, J. Brownrigg 1, J. Gambin, Z. Mizzi 2, D. Zammit 3, A. Theuma.
Refs: C. Bounpensiero, M. Angileri
Waterpolo is an intense, physical game of excitement if not tempered with tension, especially when a lot is at stake and teams are balanced.
All these elements were present in Wednesday’s match between San Ġiljan and Sliema. This may have also stemmed from the fact that both teams were still licking wounds from their shattering defeats against Neptunes.
All this tension erupted in the final moments when a livid Zeljko Kovacic jostled and ranted at the Italian referee Carmine Buonpensiero, protesting that a San Ġiljan player was elbowed next to the Sliema goal.
Commotion ensued as some of the San Ġiljan staff tried to approach the referee in a belligerent way and were sent off. As a result, players from both sides approached each other but there were many others who tried to calm down their nervous teammates.
The final buzzer must have had San Ġiljan sighing with relief when they finally secured their passage to the semi-final against Sirens.
San Ġiljan playing with extra fire in their bellies, send out a clear statement of intent.
The high-scoring element and the high rate of expulsions – three players were fouled out, two for Sliema and one for San Ġiljan, with the coach Zeljko Kovacic and their team manager Silvio Borg also sent off for protests – made for more excitement with the first session ending for 5-4 before the anti-climax in the last session.
The first session was a sign of things to come as the advantage changed three times with Sliema winning the first 5-4 after the Blues scored twice to cancel Nikolai Zammit’s 4-3 advantage.
A brace from Jake Bonavia and a rapid three-goal spree from San Giljan swayed the match the other way as the Saints won the next session 3-1.
With their foot still on the pedal, San Ġiljan increased their lead to 9-7 before the last session. In the last part of the game, the Saints broke twice to open a four-goal cushion. At this point, they were happy to administer their lead but Sliema fought back to cut the leeway to just two goals before all hell broke loose.
EXILES M. Castillo, N. Saliba, L. Gialanze, P. Paris, T. Sullivan, S. Xerri de Caro, M. Fenech 1, K. Griscti, N. Paris, J. Bajada 2, M. Aquilina 3, D. Fenech, G. Borg.
NEPTUNES A. Borg Cole, J. Muscat, S. Gialanze 3, G. Pace 1, J. Cachia 1, J Spiteri Staines 3, S. Camilleri 4, J. Camilleri, J. Abela 2, M Spiteri Staines, A. Fenech 2, M. Castillo 2, M. Rossi, M. Farrugia
(1-4, 3-2, 2-7, 0-5)
Refs: A. DeRaffaele, F. Guarracino
In the other quarter-final, Neptunes had enough ammunition, even when they started drafting their tailenders, to brush aside Exiles and thus book a place in the semi-finals against Birzebbugia.
Neptunes were off the mark in brisker fashion, taking a 4-1 first-session lead against faltering opponents. In the second session, Exiles reduced the gap from 4-1 to 6-4. It was a close session when the Sliema side drew level on 4-4 with Max Aquilina distinguishing himself with a brace.
Four goals for Neptunes in the third eight-minute quarter made it a more familiar scoreline at the beginning of the session heralded by the push of youngsters Mark Castillo, who scored a brace, and Sam Gialanze.
Jake Bajada and Mark Fenech briefly put Neptunes within reach. However, four conversions on the spin put the Reds home and dry on 13-6 at the end of the third quarter.
The seven-goal margin in the Reds’ favour was increased to 12 goals at the end of the match.