India write history to reach Bulgaria 2023 semi-finals

27 Apr. 2023

India write history to reach Bulgaria 2023 semi-finals

India became the first Asian team in history to seal a semi-finals berth at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, winning their second game in a row in the group phase (33:31) against Malta.

Group A

  • Malta vs India 31:33 (14:15)

Anything else but a Malta win by at least three goals would have seen India progress to the semi-finals of the 2023 IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, as they would have become the first-ever Asian side to reach this phase of the competition in history.

But Malta, who lost their first game at Bulgaria 2023, 27:29 against Andorra, were no pushovers against a plucky India side, which always seems to find the right buttons to push when they find themselves in serious trouble.

It was India which took the first lead (4:2), after six minutes, with goalkeeper Kumar Atul, the shot-stopper who had the second largest number of saves in the first round of the group phase, boasting an excellent game once again, finishing the first half with nine saves and a 39.1% saving efficiency.

Yet Malta had fuel in their tank to take India all the way, as back Neil Gruppetta and left wing Benjamin Spiteri each scored four goals in the first half to turn the game on its head and take a 10:7 lead after 20 minutes.

India were not going to back down, and their back line, delivering goals via excellent breakthroughs, enabled the Asian side to tie the game immediately with a 3:0 run that left Malta in tatters, forcing coach Diogo Castro to take a timeout.

But it did not help, as India eventually entered the break with a one-goal lead, 15:14, cementing their status as favourites to win the group and qualify for the semi-finals after their three-goal win against Andorra on Wednesday, 26:23.

Another 3:0 unanswered run and a 5:1 run to start the second half saw India outplay Malta early and set up a nice path for the win, as Atul extended his excellent run of form while backs Mohit and Amit ran riot in Malta’s defence.

Despite Malta throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the game, their attack did not get going, with a mammoth number of turnovers definitely hampering their efforts to secure the win.

As Amit, Mohit and Ankit combined for 26 goals for India, Malta’s 19 turnovers were one too many, a comeback failing to be on the cards at the end of the game, which India controlled easily.

With their 33:31 win, India wrote history to become the first-ever Asian side to secure a place in the semi-finals of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, capping off an excellent week in Varna, which saw them seal two wins in their first two matches, setting up a semi-final against either Australia or Cyprus.

On the other hand, Malta head to the Placement Matches 9-12 on Saturday, when they will first face the Republic of Moldova, the third-placed team in Group B, as they try to avoid finishing last in this edition of the competition.

Player of the Match: Mohit (India)