Title at stake as Neptunes and Sliema clash in play-offs
Sliema McDonald’s stand in the way of their great antagonists Neptunes Emirates as the Reds will be looking to claim a third successive league title, and 21st in their history, with the final series getting underway this evening with the first play-off from a possible five.
These two teams have played a leading role in many other epic contests in the domestic game, including last year’s final, and the series coming up will be no exception as the season is drawing to a close after a summer campaign that had taken off with the Preliminary Round in June.
Neptunes have spent the last week preparing for this final without exerting too much energy and interested onlookers having booked their place in the show-down after topping the standings at the end of the regular season.
The same cannot be said of the Blues though.
They had to go through a gruelling semi-final series against San Ġiljan that was sealed last Friday when Sergio Afric’s men edged the valiant Saints in a penalty shoot-out to claim the best-of-three contest 2-0.
San Ġiljan had their chances to force a decider but it was not their day and Sliema have now edged closer to their 32nd national championship.
With Karl Izzo, San Ġiljan have done remarkable progress also considering that he was the only Maltese coach in the top flight.
News that Izzo has extended his stay at San Ġiljan by another year should be greeted with a degree of enthusiasm as the local game continues to yearn for a third force in the Premier Division to challenge the Sliema-Neptunes dominion.
As regards head-to-head meetings this summer, Sliema and Neptunes are on a perfect keel.
Neptunes beat Sliema 9-5 in a key Preliminary Round match that earned the Reds five bonus points at the start of the regular season.
Almost a month later, Sliema avenged that upset when they beat the Balluta Bay Reds 10-9 and the second round clash finished all square – 8-8.
This summer, Sliema won the President’s Cup at the expense of Neptunes following a 6-4 victory.
However, the Reds made amends by lifting the KO trophy for a second successive year after having the better of the Blues 12-8 in the final.
Neptunes will again bank on the scoring skills of Steve Camilleri and Tamas Molnar with Croatian powerhouse Aleksandar Ciric marshalling their defensive lines.
The goalkeeping heroics of Hungarian Istvan Gergely probably steered Sliema to where they are today but no one can cancel the contribution of the others, particularly captain John Soler whose scoring instints again came to the fore this summer.
The final play-offs will bring the season to a close.
If all matches are required to determine the new Premier Division champions, the curtains on the 2012 campaign will go down on September 11.
(National Pool, Tal-Qroqq)
18.00 Division One SF (3) Valletta vs Otters.
19.15 Premier Division final (1) Neptunes vs Sliema.
June 23: Sliema vs Neptunes - 5-9
July 25: Neptunes vs Sliema - 9-10
August 12: Sliema vs Neptunes - 8-8
July 7: Sliema vs Neptunes - 8-12
June 26: Neptunes vs Sliema - 4-6