(4-3, 3-2, 4-4, 4-4)
Malta U-17 moved on the brink of qualification to the European Championship finals when they beat Poland 15-13 at the National Pool.
It was the second successive win for Milan Cirovic’s team who will all but assure themselves of one of the two qualifying spots tonight when they face Slovakia.
Jayden Cutajar and Elijah Schembri starred with four goals while Dean Bugeja netted a hat-trick as the Maltese showed remarkable resilience to overcome a gritty Polish team and stay on course to secure top spot in the group.
The first session turned out to be a hard-fought affair with skipper Jayden Cuatjar emerging as Malta’s main source of goals after netting hat-trick, which included a penalty conversion and another from a man-up set, as well as a striker from Dean Bugeja.
The Polish side always managed to stay in the game with Bartosz Grabinski their main threat with a well-taken brace.
Bugeja could have increased the home side’s lead to two goals but missed a penalty on the stroke of time to leave the team 4-3 ahead.
At the start of the second session, Cirovic’s boys started to show remarkable improvement as they started to defend better while their lightning attacking forays was leaving the Polish side in disarray as goals from Jayden Cutajar, Julian Chetcuti and Jayden Cassar move to a commanding 7-3 lead.
The Polish side refused to throw in the towel and managed to pull two goals back through Kamil Greif and Jacek Rozycki to goa at the half-time interval trailing 7-5.
Elijah Schembri struck in the opening stages of the third session to increase Malta’s lead to three goals.
But the Poles were not moving away with Streif scoring his team’s sixth goal.
The visitors started to pile the pressure on the Maltese as goals from Stanizewski made it one-goal game with less than 2.35 minutes to go – 9-8.
Dean Bugeja scored a crucial goal with 45 seconds remaining at the end of the quarter to give the Maltese a vital two-goal buffer before the start of the final session.
Piotr Kedzior surprised Maltese goalkeeper Zach Dzanovic to reignite Poland’s hopes of a comeback early in the fourth session before Jacub Bloch levelled the match from a man-up set to throw the tie wide open.
Excitement reached fever pitch as Luigi Dimech put the home side back in front with five minutes 32 minutes to go before Elijah Schembri made it 13-11 with less than four minutes to go.
The Polish side looked rattled and the Maltese further inflicted the damage when Julian Chircop made it 14-11.
Schembri struck again to restore Malta’s three-goal lead after Bloch grabbed Poalnd’s 12th goal on the day.
Broniecki kept alive Poland’s flickering hopes with less than 20 seconds left, but it was too little too late as Malta secured a vital second win in the tournament
MALTA: Z. Dzanovic, S. Engerer, J. Valletta, G. Bonavia, J. Cassar 1, D. Bugeja 3, L. Montebello, J. Cutajar 4, E. Schembri 4, J. Chircop 2, L. Dimech 1, E. Mallia, I. Schembri.
POLAND: G. Mateusz, O. Bankowski, P. Kedzior 1, A. Guzy, J. Bloch 1, W. Staniszewski 3, B. Brabinski, P. Broniecki 1, J. Rozycki 1, A. Pyrek 1, M. Ciula, K. Greif 2, I. Michalski.
Referees: R. Vehovek (Slovenia), G. Courbin (France).
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