Once the headline fixture of Maltese waterpolo, the derby between Sliema and Neptunes has lost much of its lustre in the last seasons as San Ġiljan not only caught up with these two rivals but established themselves as the dominant force.
Yet their first-round meeting provided these two glorious clubs an opportunity to demonstrate their progress as the Blues are hoping that with Croatian coach Sergio Afric, the home-grown hopes will finally come of age, while the Reds’ transformation under Jovan Popovic is such that they are genuine contenders for the title.
True to tradition, these two rivals served up an exciting match decided with a goal netted with less than 27 seconds to go as Sliema upstaged their rivals.
Sliema seemed to be cruising to an easy victory with one session to go. However, Neptunes fought back gallantly to overturn the 7-3 deficit, only to see their efforts nullify by Zach Mizzi’s back-hand.
Michael Spiteri Staines’ failure to convert a penalty cost them dear in the opening exchanges as Jake Muscat finished off a solo break in style to give Neptunes a slender 2-1 advantage at the end of the first session.
With Neptunes relying on ball to their centre, Sliema started banking on fast breaks and the speedster Mizzi profited from Neptunes’ flat-out approach to lob perfectly over Alan Borg Cole to restore parity before change of ends.
That gave Sliema courage, going in front for the first time at the beginning of the third session and then scoring three goals in quick succession without reply to end it 7-3 in the lead.
Neptunes had a great comeback in the last session of the match to nullify the deficit with Jordan Camilleri and Nikolai Zammit striking each twice. But drama was still on the agenda, with 27 seconds left, Mizzi netted a grand goal on a back hand.
Earlier, San Ġiljan were made to fight harder than expected to gain their 36th consecutive victory with a 10-6 win against Valletta.
A four-goal start gained by San Ġiljan in the first session made all the diffence between them and Valletta. Their early spark deserted the champions with goalkeeper Ryan Sciortino covering himself with glory as he inspired a resilient Valletta to keep up with their much-qouted with a string of excellent saves.
(1-2, 2-1, 4-0, 5-2)
Sliema: J. Sammut, J.Gabarretta 1, D. Fenech 2, M. Carani, M. Meli, K. Dowling, M. Spiteri Staines 2, Z. Chetcuti, M. Cordina 1, Z. Mule Galea, Z. Mizzi 2, N. Bugelli 1, Z. Sciberras.
Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, N. Lanzon 2, K. Erdogan, G. Pace 1, M. Martellacci, S. Busuttil, N. Zammit 1, J. Camilleri 2, M. Cutajar, M. Zammit 1, J. Muscat 1, M. Azzopardi, F. Buhagiar.
Refs: Peter Balzan, Stefan Licari.
San Ġiljan 10
(4-0, 2-2, 1-1, 3-3)
San Ġiljan: T. Micallef, P. Borg 2, D. Ciantar, B. Grech, J. Galea, M. Zammit 1, B. Plumpton 1, C. Farrugia, T. Said, Darren Zammit, P. Fava 1, Dino Zammit 4.
Valletta: R. Sciortino, J. Spiteri Staines 1, N. Farrugia 1, M. Mifsud, T. Agius, D. Saliba, D. Paolella, M. Lanzon 1, A. Mifsud, A. Agius 1, K. Galea 2, L. Gialanze, R. Bonnici.
Refs: Alex de Raffaele, Ronnie Spiteri.
(3-0, 5-0, 4-2, 0-2)
Marscascala: J. Micallef, JC. Cutajar 4, F. Borg, A. Vella, D. Borg Millo, L. Grixti, K. Navarro 3, J. Busuttil 1, J. Bajada 1, C. Mifsud 1, D. Cassar 2, R. Attard, B. Muscat.
Otters: K. Schembri, M. Camilleri, A. Magri, D. Dimech, J. Teuma, C. Bugeja, G. Mizzi 1, S. Dimech, K. Scicluna, E. Gravina 1, A. Falzon, G. Sammut 1, M. Sciberras 1.
Refs: Ronnie Spiteri, Massimo Angileri.
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