Watch: Neptunes land 25th water polo league title
Beat outgoing champions San Ġiljan in decider
Neptunes have done it again, outlasting outgoing champions San Ġiljan to clinch their 25th water polo league title, on Sunday.
It was an exceptional finale with the three-match series drawing large crowds to the point that the start of the match was delayed by 10 minutes to allow supporters take their place.
As expected this was another pulsating clash, a very close contest resolved in extremis in favour of the team that was solid at the back with their goalkeeper Alan Borg Cole in top form as he kept thwarting the San Ġiljan shooters with a string of excellent saves.
The Reds’ victory was the climax of a crescendo season for Neptunes who first punctured their opponents’ invincible season by halting their impressive winning streak and then inflicted a psychological blow on them when they went 1-0 ahead in the play-offs.
Neptunes refused to panic when they were beaten by San Ġiljan on Friday to set the final series to a decider.
The Balluta Bay team managed to wipe off another mental handicap of having to play without their suspended coach Jovan Popovic while on the other hand San Ġiljan could bank on their lethal scorer Matthew Zammit who managed to overturn a one-match ban.
Seven goals were scored in a combative first session which turned into a personal duel between Paulo Obradovic and Petar Muslim, who exploited some early space to score some great goals. Obradovic outscored his Croatian counterpart by three goals to two.
Marking was tight with the foreigners in the water shadowing each other and the balance kept tilting Neptunes’ way even if San Ġiljan tried to keep within touching distance.
At the beginning of the second session, Dino Zammit had to exercise his muscles to outsmart his marker and level matters for his side.
The battle hinged on the goalkeepers’ ability to pull off vital saves as Neptunes’ Borg Cole produced a smart save to deny Zammit a second goal with the two sides locked at four-all before change of ends.
It was a tight match with strict attention on the respective centres and San Ġiljan centre Zammit had to show all his masterful qualities to touch the ball behind Borg Cole from Paul Fava’s delivery.
By then, Neptunes had wasted all their man-ups but Jeremy Abela converted their last of three. With Jordan Camilleri hanging on two fouls, Obradovic was thwarted time and again by the impenetrable Borg Cole as the third session ended 5-5.
At the start of the last session, Jordan Camilleri kept his cool despite his handicap and overturned the scoreline in Neptunes’ favour. Then, Borg Cole effected another excellent block on Dino Zammit to keep his side ahead of their opponents.
With just over a minute left, Gabriel Pace effectively scored the goal of the season to put his side two goals up.
Zammit’s second goal gave San Giljan some hope but Neptunes summoned all their expertise to stifle their opponents’ final charge to save the game.
At the end of the match, BOV chief officer Paul Gauci and ASA president Joe Caruana Curran presented the league trophy to captain Niki Lanzon.
San Ġiljan Tum Invest 6
Neptunes Leo Vegas 7
(3-4, 1-0, 1-1, 1-2)
San Ġiljan: J. Tanti, P. Borg, A. Galea, B. Grech, C. Farrugia, M. Zammit 2 , B. Plumpton, Darren Zammit, T. Said, P. Obradovic 3, P. Fava, Dino Zammit 1, T. Micallef.
Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, N. Lanzon , K. Erdogan, G. Pace 1, P. Muslim 2, N. Zammit, S. Camilleri , J. Camilleri 3, J. Abela 1, M. Zammit, J. Muscat, M. Azzopardi, J. Parnis.
Refs: Massimo Angileri, Gianluca Centineo.