by Alex Vella
In a match which had the big crowd with their hearts in their mouth, Sliema had the last laugh at the expense of Neptunes Emirates in a dramatic penalty shoot-out which was resolved on a total of 17-16 in their favour after an 11-all score at the end of extra-time.
It was a final typical of the great sporting battles between these two giants of the local game. The teams fought like lions and it was heart-breaking for one of the sides to finish on the losing end.
But that is the law of sport and Sliema will relish their latest victory in the competition.
Not surprisingly, marking was very tight with swift double shadowing on the respective centres. The Blues converted all their three extra-man sets with the Reds failing twice from as many.
The lead alternated with Sliema 3-2 in front after the first session.
Neptunes won another close second quarter despite failing to capitalise on two open chances which came the way of Clint Mercieca and Steve Camilleri.
Niki Lanzon made it 3-3 with Tamas Molnar giving the Reds a 4-3 lead. But Timmy Sullivan scored his second with a well-executed lob to level on 4-4 at half-time.
The same player was leaving his best against Neptunes as he netted his team’s fifth. Molnar equalised with Jerome Gabarretta edging his team in front on 6-5.
Camilleri and Lanzon put Neptunes ahead as the contest roared and raged. Ominously for Neptunes, captain Lanzon was excluded for good in the third session after a simultaneous in-fringement with Nikolai Lubrano.
Mark Meli restored the equilibrium and in the last session it was Sullivan’s turn to go out on three fouls.
Molnar converted a penalty to give Neptunes the lead.
It was still ding-dong at this stage with the Reds nosing ahead and the Blues responding with an equaliser which had the teams sharing 20 goals at the end of normal time.
So, it was on to extra-time.
Jordan Camilleri was out on his third personal fault before John Soler converted with a lob but with 33 seconds left, Molnar levelled matters to extend the drama to a penalty shoot-out.
The tension was too much to bear. It was 16-all with the last penalty taken by Steve Camilleri being saved by keeper Ryan Coleiro amid the jubilation of his team-mates and supporters which reached a climax when the cup was presented to captain Soler by Peter Perotti, the BOV Chief Executive Officer.
Sliema 11 – Neptunes 11
Sliema win 6-5 on penalties
(3-2, 1-2, 3-3, 3-3 – 1-0, 0-1)
Sliema: R. Coleiro, D. Buric 2, N. Lubrano, T. Sullivan 3, M. Meli 1, J. Soler 1, G. Kiss 2, E. Aquilina, J. Brownrigg 1, J. Gabarretta 1, D. Paolella, M. Spiteri Staines, D. Abela.
Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, N. Lanzon 2, A. Sammut, M. Stellini 2, T. Agius, A. Ciric, S. Camilleri 3, J. Camilleri, M. Lanzon, S. Gravina, B. Lanzon, T. Molnar 4, C. Mercieca.
Refs: M. Dalli, F. Colantoni.