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Cousin's late strike keeps Malta hopes alive

Steve Camilleri faces a race against time to be fit for the second leg against Belarus on Saturday. Photo: Wally Galea

Steve Camilleri faces a race against time to be fit for the second leg against Belarus on Saturday. Photo: Wally Galea

Belarus           8

Malta              7

(0-2, 4-2, 2-1, 2-2)

Aurelien Cousin kept alive Malta’s chances of booking their place in the 2018 European Championship finals as the waterpolo national team suffered an 8-7 defeat in the opening leg of the play-off in Minsk on Saturday.

Things had looked promising for Karl Izzo’s team as goals from Cousin and Steve Camilleri giving them a comfortable 4-1 lead.

But the hosts hit back with two goals from Tsimafei Padziarun and Mikita Chuprina to level matters when ends were changed.

The game remained evenly balanced with Belarus skipper Aleksey Kuzmenko putting them 6-5 ahead with only one session to go.

Belarus were now on top and it looked as though they were set for a commanding victory when scoring twice without reply to go 8-5 ahead.

But the Maltese kept fighting and their efforts were rewarded when first Matthew Zammit pulled a goal back before Cousin struck the team’s seventh goal with only 50 seconds to go as Malta settled for defeat with minimum margin.

Contacted by the timesofmalta.com, Izzo could not hide his disappointment for his team’s performance.

“I cannot be happy with the team’s display,” he said.

“We were leading 4-1 and playing some excellent waterpolo but two costly mistakes put our opponents back in the match and from then on the team lost its plot.

“Midway through the third session we lost Steve Camilleri, who is a very crucial member of our team, with an injury and that affected our game.

“But the players kept fighting and we managed to score two late goals that puts us with a fighting chance to turn the tie around.”

Malta will now host Belarus in the return leg next Saturday, needing a win by a two-goal margin to book their place in the European Championship finals in Barcelona in July.

Malta: N. Grixti, A. Galea, D. Zammit, J. Abela, M. Zammit 2, S. Camilleri 1, J. Camilleri, B. Plumpton, A. Cousin 4, Z. Mizzi, D. Zammit, J. Tanti.

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