– Exiles 5
(3-0, 3-3, 1-0, 2-2)
Alex Vella, at the National Pool
Emirates is the name of the game at Neptunes WPSC.
When this renowned airline landed at Balluta Bay club Neptunes last year, the response from the Reds was immediate as they clinched their 19th league title.
This time it was the turn of this team to again live up to the reputation of the high-flying carrier when they inscribed their name on the BOV KO prize for a landmark 20th time in their history.
Neptunes beat Exiles in a match which had the pundits putting the Reds as firm favourites to carry off this honour.
The team guided by Russian Sergei Markoch only had to shrug off the resultant mental pressure this tag carried with it. Otherwise, their edge in the water, especially in the initial part of the game, was not in doubt.
Despite a fighting performance from Exiles, who refused to give up as Alan Borg Cole in goal inspired them with some fine saves, Neptunes went about their business of beating their opponents from across the picturesque bay in St Julian’s.
Exiles were indeed a generous lot and offered a stern challenge in the wake of their surprising success over holders Sliema earlier in the week.
They were making their first showing in the cup final and fought tenaciously to keep afloat but in the end they could not stop their vessel from listing only for the sinking to become inevitable but honourable.
“We found some difficulties today as Exiles provided a strong rearguard with their keeper playing a blinder,” Markoch said.
The Reds took some time to ignite but when they did they flew off the blocks as they took a 3-0 advantage inside the opening eight minutes.
Marco Cuk was being closely marked by Vladimir Gojkovic, of Neptunes, and that meant that Exiles’ scoring power was curtailed.
Neptunes opened a 5-0 lead with Tamas Molnar missing a penalty before Cuk flicked in for 5-1.
Exiles hit back when netting their fourth and fifth extra-man sets. They were still full of fight as their loyal band of supporters urged them on.
Neptunes grew a bit edgy and gave the impression that they opted to play a waiting game.
The dearth of goals in the third session prevailed with the Reds missing some incredible chances also due to Exiles’ ability to block effectively and snuff their breaks.
Gojkovic made it 7-3 seconds before the third session ended.
Neptunes’ off-the-mark shooting was still evident in the last quarter and so was Exiles’ man-up record (they scored four on ten to Neptunes’ three on seven).
Eventually, goals from Michele Stellini and the fourth from Molnar sealed victory for Markoch’s team before Cuk reduced the arrears.
The cup was presented to captain Niki Lanzon by BOV manager Charles Azzopardi before the team proceeded to the club amid the rejoicing of their fans.
Neptunes: I. Bugeja, N. Lanzon, E. Aquilina, M. Stellini 1, J. Camilleri, Z. Mizzi, S. Camilleri 3, V. Gojkovic 1, B. Buhagiar, S. Gravina, R. Sciortino, T. Molnar 4, M. Pisani.
Exiles: A. Borg Cole, J. Rizzo Naudi, P. Paris, D. Pace Lupi, T. Sullivan 2, M. Calleja, M. Cuk 2, K. Grixti, N. Portelli, A. Cousin 1, J. Paris, A. Sciberras, K. Lanzon.
Referees: M. Angilleri, P. Bensaia.