MALTA              7

SPAIN                23

(3-4, 2-6, 0-7, 2-6)

Spain proved too strong for the Maltese national team as the 2018 European Championship finalists cruised to a convincing victory in their opening match at the Dunai Arena in Budapest yesterday.

It was always going to be a tough afternoon for the waterpolo national team who were making their first appearance in the continental finalists again a Spanish team who are regarded as one of the best team in the sport.

On the eve of the match, coach Karl Izzo had warned his players on their opponents’ attacking speed and the Spaniards gave ample proof of that as their quick transitions caused significant damage to the Maltese defence particularly in the final two sessions to rubberstamp their dominance.

Still, there were a lot of positives to take for coach Karl Izzo.

The Maltese players showed good defensive organisation in the opening two sessions but more encouraging was their rate of conversions in man-up situations against a far superior opponent. In fact, Izzo’s men managed a 50 per cent rate, scoring three from the six opportunities.

Added to that, Stevie Camilleri looked in excellent form as he finished as the team’s top scorer with three goals.

It is hoped that the national team can build on this performance ahead of tomorrow’s crucial match against Turkey.

The Maltese players provided encouraging signs in the opening session as they managed to keep abreast with the Spaniards.

In fact, both teams were trading blows to each other with the Spaniards managing to find the net three times with the Maltese always managing to restore parity.

Fernando Fernadez Miranda and a brace from Roger Tahull Compte put Spain in charge but the Maltese hit back courtesy of Jeremy Abela, Stevie Camilleri and Dino Zammit to level matters with only seconds to go. But it was Spain who edged the session as a Munarriz Egana penalty earned them a 4-3 lead.

In the second session, Spain’s pacey play came to fore as their quick movement of the ball and faster swimming left the Maltese on the ropes.

In fact, the World Cup finalists managed to find the net six times with Alvaro Granados Ortega netting a brace while Tahull Compte, Delgado Baches, Larumbe Gonfaus and Filipe Perrone also on the mark.

Malta managed to find the net twice in quick succession through a Stevie Camilleri, from a man-up, and Matthew Zammit but were still trailing 10-5 when ends were changed.

The last two sessions turned out to be more difficult for the Maltese as Spain maintained their high-tempo, scoring at regular intervals.

In fact, the Spanish team scored seven goals without reply as Malta’s defending left much to be desired.

Stevie Camilleri had the chance to find the net for Malta in the third session but he failed to convert a penalty.

In the last session, Malta did manage to somewhat regroup but the rampant Spaniards continue to hit the target with Munarriz Egana helping himself to a hat-trick.

The Maltese at least did manage to find their scoring touch as they managed to pull two goals back through Matthew Zammit and Stevie Camilleri.

Malta: N. Grixti, J. Gabarretta, A. Galea, G. Pace, Darren Zammit, M. Zammit 2, S. Camilleri 3, J. Camilleri, J. Abela 1, A. Cousin, B. Plumpton, D. Zammit 1, A. Borg. Cole.

Spain: D. Lopez Pinedo, A. Munarriz Egana 5, A. Granados Ortega 3, B. Sanahuja Carne 1, M. De Toro Dominguez, M. Larumbe Gonfaus 2, A. Delgado Baches 1, F. Fernadez Miranda 2, R. Tahull Compte 4, F. Perrone Rocha 3, B. Mallarach Guell 1, A. Bustos Sanchez 1, E. Lorrio Bejar.

Referees: D. Dutilth Dumas (Netherlands), G. Stavridis (Greece).