Malta snatches incredible win over Israel

Credit to: Istvan Derencsenyi/LEN

This is what the two-division format has been created for: in the ‘lower house’ teams can play real thrillers like Malta and Israel did in Zagreb. The Maltese, surviving a 4-minute ejection and down by four in the third, produced a miraculous comeback in the emotion-filled match. Serbia did another clean job by beating Germany, while the favourites delivered in Dubrovnik with Romania and the Netherlands on their way to the crossovers.

Division Two, Group C (Zagreb): Malta v Israel 13-11, Serbia v Germany 14-6.

Standings: 1. Serbia 6, 2. Germany 3, 3. Malta 3, 4. Israel 0

Group D (Dubrovnik): Romania v Slovenia 13-5, Slovakia v Netherlands 6-17

Standings: 1. Romania 6, 2. Netherlands 3, 3. Slovakia 3, 4. Slovenia 0

Credit to: European Aquatics

Malta and Israel produced an incredible fight, a real battle with a lot of physical contacts and even more emotions, two 4-minute ejections for brutality and unbelievable twists before Malta emerged as an unlikely winner.

Israel took control early on and built a massive 2-5 lead in eight minutes, thanks to its flawless attacking which saw all their first seven shots on target.

They seemed to get into an even more promising position when a VAR review ended in the ejection of Mark Castillo who hit his defender in front of the Israeli goal, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

Ronen Gros buried the penalty for 2-6 and next came four minutes of constant man-up – but they couldn’t really capitalise on it.

They conceded a goal from a penalty, could score only once and came out with a 2-1 partial result from this crucial phase.

That boosted the morale of the Maltese players who soon pulled two back for 5-7, but Gros sent the ball home from a late 6 on 5 with 0:02 on the clock for 5-8 and that seemed to give the psychological edge back to Israel.

They could kill two man-downs but in front they lost their composure a bit and Malta pushed on for another comeback.

At 8-9 they were on the rise again, but this time Yoav Rendler’s smart 7m lob killed their momentum in the last second which reset the two-goal gap before the final period.

With some luck, Dor Koter pushed the ball in from the centre after a deflected shot just fell to his hand with 6:12 remaining, so it still looked like Israel’s match at 9-11.

Credit to: Istvan Derencsenyi/LEN

Jeremy Abela pulled one back from a brilliant action shot and that started their rivals’ miseries.

They missed a man-up, then Gros hit the post from a penalty halfway down in the fourth but turning into the last two minutes Israel was still up by one.

Not so long, though, Nikolai Zammit’s ball bounced in from the post, so for the first time since 1-1, it was even again at 11-11, with 1:44 on the clock.

With 0:41 to go, Israel earned a 6 on 5, so they had a fine chance to score the winner.

Instead, an emotion override cost them the match as Tal Fotin elbowed his defender while fighting for their positions.

A red card was issued initially which, after the VAR review, was turned into a 4min ejection which came with a penalty.

Jake Muscat converted it for 12-11 with 35 seconds to go so Israel had to go for a 6 on 6 with their goalie attacking but couldn’t create much danger, and in the dying seconds Jayden Cutajar sent the ball to the empty net.

Losing this match was somewhat harder for Israel amidst all the given circumstances – indeed, Malta staged a 4-0 run in the last 5:31 minutes, while Israel remained scoreless in the final 6:22.

Credit to: European Aquatics

The other match also ended in a 4-0 finish – but that only expanded the gap Serbia had already built over three periods.

The Germans improved a lot compared to the opening night when they conceded eight goals to Malta in the first half.

This time their defence stood firm for most of the time, goalie Felix Benke delivered 14 saves – still, it was only enough to keep his team relatively close after three periods (10-6).

In the fourth they ran out of steam and the Serbs’ pressure brought down the German defence – indeed, the number of shots on target, 28-14, showed the difference which was mirrored by the final score (14-6).

Credit to: Bozo Radic / CROPIX

In Dubrovnik, the favourites bagged the wins they needed to advance to the crossovers.

Romania did a clean job against Slovenia, a 6-1 blast in the opening quarter doing the damage.

They hit four in three minutes and never looked back – the win made it almost sure that they would finish atop in Group D which means a fine position to have a shot at the last remaining World Championship berths.

Credit to: Bozo Radic / CROPIX

In the other do-or-die match, the Netherlands bounced back with a big win against Slovakia after their disappointing loss to Romania in the first round.

This encounter decided second place in the group and the chance to make the ‘upper house’ (though, most probably, making the cut would require a win over Hungary).

The Dutch stormed to a 1-7 lead by the middle of the second thanks to their effective man-up plays.

The Slovaks again faced a series of exclusions but unlike against Slovenia, when they defended well, now they could barely kill any.

By halftime, the Netherlands stood 6 for 7, while the Slovakian goalie, hero of the opening match, Tomas Hoferica could make a single save on 10 shots – thus the halftime score, 4-9, put the writing already on the Slovaks’ wall.

It just got worse in the third as the Dutch added three more action goals in two minutes to make it 4-12.

Although Slovakia scored twice in the third period, Netherlands enjoyed a 5-0 zero final period for a commanding 6-17 victory.