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Goalkeeper Mizzi to the rescue

Freddie Mizzi - great goalkeeping.

Freddie Mizzi - great goalkeeping.

When Freddie Mizzi retired from football he had already become a legend in Paola.

It was hard for anyone to fill the void he had left behind him. Hibs, however, were lucky because in John Bonello they found an able goalkeeper to carry on in Mizzi's footsteps.

Bonello's first showings in goal, however, raised many an eyebrow.

"Could this raw and untried youngster ever replace the great Mizzi?" the fans asked.

Bonello, however, rose to the occasion and before long he had established himself as a worthy successor of 'Il-Pampalun'.

Years passed, and Mizzi was quickly becoming a memory. Then in 1980-81 something happened which brought Mizzi back to his former glory.

Hibs' opponents in Europe that season were Waterford. The Irish team was not considered as one of the best sides in the Cup Winners' Cup and Hibs did not disguise their ambition of eliminating the Irish team.

The Paolites had a strong side brimming with confidence, but the absence of Malta international Bonello, who had left Malta to play in Germany, was sorely felt.

Hibs were in a spot since stand-in keeper, Raymond Caruana, was too young and inexperienced to be entrusted with such an important encounter.

In the end, they recalled Mizzi from retirement. He was 38 at the time and had been absent from the game for a number of years but agreed to step into the breach.

I remember the first evening when Mizzi reported for training at the Schreiber Sports Ground. It was a long time since the old ground had seen such a big crowd of Hibs supporters all eager to pay homage to their hero.

On the day of the match against Waterford, Hibs also had to do without Gużi Xuereb, who was sidelined with a knee injury.

Hibs started well and after only three minutes Paul Xuereb headed in a cross by Joe Curmi.

The goal was disallowed, however, because of a foul on goalkeeper Thomas by Ernest Spiteri Gonzi.

A few minutes later, Mizzi earned his first cheer of the afternoon when he saved Madigan's effort on the ground. In the 31st minute, Hibs went close when Spiteri Gonzi was unlucky to see his shot on the turn hit the upright.

Towards the end of the first half, Joe Curmi just failed to score when, after dribbling round two defenders, he saw his shot blocked.

In the second half, Hibs changed tactics and went forward more often. They kept pressing, winning a number of flag-kicks.

On one occasion, Bertu Mizzi, an expert spot-kick taker, floated the ball into the penalty area and Zerafa, with the entire goal at his mercy, hit just over the bar.

It seemed that Hibs were going to pay dearly for their misses when, in the 51st minute, Consiglio tripped Murray in the box. It was a penalty all the way. The Hibs' supporters were speechless, but veteran Mizzi dived sideways to save Jackson's shot. There was no two ways about it: Mizzi had saved the day for Hibernians.

Inspired by this heaven-sent gift, the Paolites roared back into action, and finally broke the deadlock.

Consiglio crossed to Spiteri Gonzi who nodded the ball down for Xuereb to hammer it home.

After this goal, the initiative passed into the hands of the Irish. They irritated the local crowd with their time-wasting tactics. Hibs increased their efforts, but to no avail. Alas, they no longer had the energy, or the time, to achieve their purpose.

At least, they went home with a precious 1-0 victory, thanks mainly to a generous effort by Mizzi.

In Dublin, Hibs' hopes of qualifying were shattered in 11 frantic minutes just before half-time.

Until then, the game had been a balanced affair, but when Kirk opened the score Hibs' resistance collapsed.

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