(1-1, 4-2, 3-4, 7-1)
The Malta waterpolo national team gave France a scare at the European Championships as the Le Bleus need a flurry of goals in the final session to prevail 15-8 in Split on Friday.
The French were looking to beat the Maltese by a 19-goal margin to ensure they can leapfrog Greece to second place in the group.
But they found in front of them a determined Maltese side who managed to keep abreast with their more-quoted opponents throughout the opening three sessions.
In fact, Karl Izzo’s team were still in contention for a stunning victory by the start of the final session when trailing 8-7. But then, France’s superior physical power came to the fore to secure the win.
Matthew Zammit, Ben Plumpton and Dino Zammit notched a brace each with the other goals coming from Sam Gialanze and Liam Galea as Malta will now look forward to Sunday’s positional play-off against Slovenia with renewed optimism as they seek a win that would lift them outside the bottom two places in the championship.
Malta started the game very well as despite having the French playing high press, they still managed to turn the ball well around and create good scoring chances.
On the other hand, the Maltese played their zonal defensive play almost to perfection with goalkeeper Jake Tanti confirming his great form of late with some excellent stops.
Mehdi Marzouki broke the stalemate to put the French ahead but the Maltese responded immediately with a fine strike from the centre.
The French tried to surge ahead but they could not find a way past Tanti but the stalemate prevailed.
In the second session, the Maltese continued to grow in stature and Liam Galea gave Malta the lead with a stunning strike early on.
The French soon responded through David Caumette who restored parity from a man-up set.
Malta kept pushing forward and had two fine opportunities to go back in front but Matthew Zammit was denied by the post while Dino Zammit saw his shot saved.
Alex Bouet put the French back in front but the Maltese refused to buckle and Matthew Zammit made it three-all.
The French struck twice late on in the second session through Enzo Khasz and Mehdi Marzouki to change ends 5-3 ahead.
Any thoughts that the Maltese players could slow down in the third second were quickly dispelled when Plumpton made it 5-4.
Thomas Vernoux and Romain Marion-Vernoux struck in quick succession to put the French 7-4 ahead.
Dino Zammit bridge the gap to 7-5 before Charles Canonne restored the French’s three-goal lead.
Malta ended the session strongly with two fine strikes from Dino Zammit and Sam Gialanze put the Maltese just one goal behind with just one session to go.
France finally took the upperhand with three goals from Marin-Vernoux, Crousillat, Pierre Vanpeperstraete and Emil Bjorch that lifted them to 12-7 ahead as Malta were committing silly errors in attack.
Plumpton converted a man-up set with a fine strike before Marion-Vernoux restored France’s five-goal lead.
Khasz and Caumette struck late on to seal a flattering win for France.