Malta, 2022. A Summer of Sport by Domenic Aquilina.

Malta, 2022. A Summer of Sport by Domenic Aquilina.

With many sporting events resuming after the pandemic, a busy summer season began & Malta photographer Domenic Aquilina was confronted with a busy schedule.

Amongst these was the FIBA Basketball European Championship 2022 for Small Countries which saw Malta hosting the tournament. The Malta based photographer covered most of the tournament for IMAGO and for his local based newspaper, The Malta Independent.  He delved straight into the action, mostly covering the home nation’s group matches, which eventually saw Malta reach the final against eventual winners Armenia. 

“Basketball is a dynamic sport discipline which requires concentration and as always that extra bit of anticipation in particular when the athlete is heading towards the basket”, stated Domenic, when asked about his views on the game itself in Malta. 

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | The huge figure of Malta player, Samuel Deguara going to the basket was a joy to watch during the tournament.

“The elusive photographic capture in basketball is the “dunk shot” which is the equivalent – just to give an example – of the “punch-to-face” capture in boxing, or the ball hitting the back of the net in football.  Not an easy capture but this is always there to capture if you anticipate when this is going to happen.  As I always state you have got to know the game and the athletes themselves and their style of play sometimes to get these captures.  During the tournament itself we saw a very excellent level of international basketball, in particular from the two protagonists of the tournament, Malta and Armenia who eventually contested the final” stated Aquilina.

The teams of Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Gibraltar, Malta and San Marino took part with all matches hosted at the Ta’ Qali Basketball Pavilion at Ta’ Qali, Malta between 28 June and 03 July 2022.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Malta's Nelson Kahler (top) soars high to perform a block during the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries 2022 final against Armenia.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Andorra head coach Cristian Vegas Ribes (C) speaks his tactics to his players in the enthralling semi-final match against Malta.

Malta soon made their intentions clear by initially beating Azerbaijan 73-71 in a pulsating finish, with San Marino getting the better of Gibraltar 61-47.

Azerbaijan again went down 69-72 to Andorra whilst favourites Armenia made it look too easy, winning 63-100 against Gibraltar on Day 2.

Armenia made sure of a semi-final berth by winning 78-66 against San Marino with Malta sending the local crowd present at the Basketball Pavilion into raptures by getting a three-pointer in the final 3 seconds of the match to beat Andorra 70-72 and head straight to the semi finals.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Armenian players celebrate winning the tournament and the gold medal after their 48-84 triumph over Malta, who placed second.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Armenia players, technical staff and officials celebrate winning the FIBA Basketball European Championship 2022 for Small Countries.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Malta performed gallantly to win silver. Here Malta celebrates their last gasp 3-pointer winner on the buzzer against Andorra in the semi finals.

With Andorra getting the better of Gibraltar and Azerbaijan chalking up their third straight win over San Marino the semi’s pitted Malta against Azerbaijan and Armenia against Andorra. In another thrilling match for the locals Malta kept up their good showings by winning 59-52 to book a place in the final against Armenia who trumped Andorra 93-66.

On the final day, Andorra took third place and the bronze beating Azerbaijan 75-84. In the final, Armenia recovered from an early whirlwind that saw Malta start well with a score of 68-84, but eventually lost the game – Malta became the runners-up, the locals taking silver, and Armenia winning the title for the second time.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Malta's 7 foot 7 inches centre Samuel Deguara goes to the basket in the semis against Andorra.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Armenia's Chris Jones (L) performed to perfection during the tournament, winning the MVP award in the process.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Armenia's Andre Spight Mkrtchyan was on fire during the tournament.

Despite finishing second, Malta gave their loyal fans and followers much to cheer about with some thrilling moments, mostly coming from the gigantic 230cm / 7′ 7′ ‘ tall center, Samuel Deguara, who plays for Tokyo Hachioji Bee Trains in Japan. The Malta athlete accumulated no less than 98 points for his team during the tournament.

Another athlete who performed at a high level was none other than Armenia’s Chris Jones, who produced an incredible performance during the final with 41 points on 16-of-24. Shooting along with 10 rebounds and 6 assists to lead his team to victory and also earn the tournament’s MVP award.

The 29-year-old was joined in the All-Star Five by teammate Andre Spight Mkrtchyan, Malta’s Samuel Deguara, Guillem Colom of Andorra and Azerbaijan’s Orhan Haciyeva completing the lineup after impressing throughout the tournament.

Barely three weeks before, Aquilina, was covering the Athletics Championships of the Small States of Europe 2022 held in Malta at the Matthew Micallef St. John Athletics Stadium on 11 June 2022.

“I must admit I love covering any type of sport discipline but athletics meetings are always a joy to cover.  Diversity of sports disciplines happening at one go.  Being a commissioned event, I was on the go for nearly 9 hours, wiring “real time” images via my mobile for “real media” social media purposes.  It was one of those events that took place during Malta’s hot summer weather, with temperatures soaring up to 38 degrees Celsius.  But I enjoyed it with very good results.  I always gauge my own performance after each of my coverages.

The Long Jump events can be very rewarding in final captures.  I was using both the new Canon R3 and the Canon R5 – both set on high burst frames.”

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Malta's Janet Richard crosses the line as TeamMalta composed as well of Claire Azzopardi, Carla Scicluna, and Charlotte Wingfield (not in picture) claimed the gold medal in the women’s Swedish Relay Women Final during the international Athletics meeting in Malta.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Darko Pesic (L) from Montenegro is accidentally hit on the back-head from a tumbling hurdle during the 110 metres hurdles men final - an injury which needed medical assistance.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Sana Grillo, Malta’s pole vault athlete performs during the Pole Vault Women Final at the Athletics Championships of the Small States of Europe 2022.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Malta long-jump athlete Claire Azzopardi soars high on her way to register a personal best of 6.21 and win the gold medal during the Long Jump Women Final at the Athletics Championships of the Small States of Europe 2022 held in Malta.

Six days before he was with the Malta national football team as official photographer, covering the San Marino v Malta UEFA Nations League D, Group 2 soccer match at the San Marino Stadium, Serravalle.

“It is always a pleasure and a pride being with the Malta national football team!  As everyone knows Malta in general is very much to my heart and the Malta national football team is very special to me.  The San Marino match was a very crucial match for Maltese football in general and covering our 0-2 away win was so much extra special in a match played at 15:00 hours in a very hot humid conditions.”

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Malta's Matthew Guillaumier soars high to score his team's second goal during the UEFA Nations League League D Group 2 match against San Marino in Serravalle, San Marino in June of this year.

Water Polo, which is regarded as Malta’s top summer sports discipline is now entering the final phase. A regular attendee, Domenic Aquilina has been also covering the sport – mainly for local newspapers – The Malta Independent and The Times of Malta. 

“Water polo remains an enthralling sports discipline to capture. Action happens so fast and again you have to think and anticipate what is going to happen in a flash.  I mostly use my Canon 1Dx III and my 300 f.2.8L lens which gives me a good perspective of what I really need to focus on.”

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | James Spiteri Staines (L) of Neptunes WPSC comes face to face with Sliema ASC goalkeeper Nicky Grixti (R) during a Malta Summer 2022 water polo match.

Of course the tip of the iceberg for the IMAGO partner during 2022, was the UEFA Champions League Final 2022 staged at the Stade De France, in Saint Denis, Paris, France. For Domenic this final was very special. His fifteenth final in his career after two years of absence due to the pandemic.

“I really enjoyed this final in such a special way.  My fifteenth final and back after an absence of two years in a row due to the pandemic.  Being there, meeting all your old pals was a joy!  I have shared these finals with most of these guys (photographers) – so being there was even special!  Making it more special was the fact that I had some exceptional work published, in particular via IMAGO. and both for my two newspapers which I work for, The Malta Independent and The Times of Malta”

Back to the sunny island, football kicked off as early as 5 July with the first preliminary round from the UEFA Europa Conference League competition, covering the first two matches of the two local clubs playing on home soil, Gzira United and Floriana again in hot conditions despite the 19:00 hours kick off times.

Next in line for Domenic?  “A good summer vacation somewhere!”

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Liverpool FC's Virgil Van Dijk (L) of Liverpool FC is consoled by Thiago Alcantara after the Reds had succumbed to Spanish champions CF Real Madrid at the UEFA Champions League Final at the Stade De France in Saint Denis, Paris, France on 28 May 2022.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | CF Real Madrid's Luka Modrić and Eduardo Camavinga react in jubilation after the UEFA Champions League Final at the Stade De France in Saint Denis, Paris, France.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Liverpool FC soccer player Sadio Mane reacts in disappointment after the UEFA Champions League Final at the Stade De France in Saint Denis, Paris, France on 28 May 2022.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | CF Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois clutches the ball during the UEFA Champions League Final 2022 against Liverpool FC.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Floriana’s Jan Busuttil (R) evades the challenge from Victor Mudrac (L) of Petrocub during the First qualifying round, 1st leg soccer match, from the UEFA Europa Conference League between the two teams at the Centenary Stadium, Ta' Qali, Malta on 07 July 2022.

All images and words by Domenic Aquilina, sports photographer covering Malta.

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