The Malta waterpolo national team produced another resilient effort but was still not enough as they suffered a narrow 14-11 defeat to the more-quoted Germany side to end their commitments at the European Championship in 14th place.
Despite facing much superior opposition, the Maltese gave everything they had and will surely have left the pool in Split with some recriminations as they missed some good scoring opportunities which could have put them in a stronger position in the final stages in the match.
But one can only have words of praise for Karl Izzo’s team who have again proved that they have come a long way in these championships.
In fact, the last time Malta faced Germany was in the World League in 2018 and on that occasion the Germans prevailed 23-9.
However, on Tuesday, the Germans had to battle all the way to claim victory and no doubt these championships should be a launchpad of a brighter future for Maltese waterpolo.
“I think we had a very positive performance in these championships,” Izzo said after the match
“Our objective was to reach the 13th or 14th place which we reached last Sunday. I think today we gave them a good run for their money. Usually we lose with them by ten or 12 goals today it was three. My players played their part today but Germany did not steal anything as they were stronger in the final session.
“But all in all, it was a very positive European Championship.”
Dino Zammit was Malta’s star performer with five goals while Ben Plumpton grabbed a brace with the other goals coming from James Gambin, Matthew Zammit, Jeremy Abela and Liam Galea.
Malta managed to start well the match, playing a good zonal defence making life difficult for the superior Germans.
In fact, the Maltese managed to fight back each time they found themselves behind in the opening session as goals from Ben Plumpton, Liam Galea and Dino Zammit ensure the team remained level at 3-3.
Malta continued to keep up the pressure on the Germans and another fine strike from Dino Zammit put the team ahead for the first time in the match, 4-3
Dino Zammit had the chance to put his team two goals ahead in a quick transition but was denied by the German goalkeeper.
The Maltese were soon made to pay for this miss as Mateo Cuk levelled matters in a man-up set before Lukas Kueppers put his team ahead – 5-4.
Malta struggled to convert their scoring opportunities and the Germans headed into the interval with two goals ahead through Mark Gansen.
The Maltese finally rediscovered their scoring touch at the start of the third session when Jamie Gambin converted a man-up set to push the team just one goal behind – 6-5.
Things got even better when the Maltese effected a lightning transition with Plumpton serving Dino Zammit to level matters.
The Germans hit back and Fynn Schuetze struck with a long-range drive.
The Maltese were not rattled as Matthew Zammit rammed the ball home to restore parity – 7-7.
Schuetze quickly put his team back in front with a powerful drive, but that lead lasted only a few seconds courtesy of a Jeremy Abela goal from a man-up set.
Schuetze continued to torment the Maltese with another powerful strike but Dino Zammit continued to be equally lethal to make it 9-9 at the start of the final session.
Malta were now believing and at the start of the fourth quarter Plumpton converted a fast-break to give his team-mates a 10-9 lead.
Dino Zammit had the chance to increase Malta’s lead but failed to score from a man-up and the Germans quickly equalised through Philipp Dolff before Strelezkij converted a fast break to put his team 11-10 ahead.
Germany were now on top with Kueppers scoring again give his team a crucial two-goal lead.
Dino Zammit revived Malta’s hopes with an angled drive with just less than two minutes left.
Maurice Juengling and Mark Gansen, however, eased the German nerves when restoring his team’s two-goal lead and seal victory.