Domenic Aquilina on Malta – The emerging football haven.

Domenic Aquilina on Malta – The emerging football haven.

Domenic Aquilina won international awards for his photo of Lionel Messi’s overhead kick during a Champions League match in 2019. With decades of experience, 14 Champions League finals under his belt, and some quality time with the best-of-the-best, he now focuses on the overlooked gems in European football.

The official UEFA correspondent for the tiny island-nation of Malta, sports photographer and journalist Aquilina reports on the recent edition of the Tipsport Malta Cup. His work shows something different from the traditional leagues making international headlines, giving a voice to teams and players outside of the spotlight.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | More action from the best match of the tournament as Bamidele Yusuf (L) of Spartak Trnava, vies for the ball with Jiri Spacil (R) of Sigma Olomouc.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | More action from the best match of the tournament as Bamidele Yusuf (L) of Spartak Trnava, vies for the ball with Jiri Spacil (R) of Sigma Olomouc.

SK Sigma Olomouc triumph in the fourth edition of the Tipsport Malta Cup 2022

Words and photos by Domenic Aquilina

During the month of January most of the clubs around Europe go on the search for sun-soaked countries to recharge their batteries and get in the best shape possible for the recommencement of their respective leagues, after their respective tough winter breaks. 

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Sigma Olomouc players celebrate Ondrej Zmrzly's winning goal against Spartak Trnava.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Sigma Olomouc players celebrate Ondrej Zmrzly's winning goal against Spartak Trnava.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Milan Ristovski (L) captain of Spartak Trnava vies for the ball with Renny Smith (R) of WSG Tirol during the inaugural tournament on 18 January 2022 played in brilliant weather.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Milan Ristovski (L) captain of Spartak Trnava vies for the ball with Renny Smith (R) of WSG Tirol during the inaugural tournament on 18 January 2022 played in brilliant weather.

Sunny Malta

A country which probably lists high amongst these places is Malta.  

For the past four years the Tipsport Malta Cup has been contested on the island with clubs coming from different countries who go through an intensive training program aside from the actual tournament itself. MFA SportsPlus Limited are the main organizers of this event which has been raising the bar year after year. The organization is a leader in the sports tourism sector and specializes in the organization of training camps in Malta and abroad, and the handling of all related aspects from travelling to accommodation, transport and the management of TV rights.

This year’s edition – the Tipsport Malta Cup 2022 – kicked off on the 18th of January with a first, as four teams from the top leagues in their respective countries took part in the tournament.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Sigma Olomouc players celebrate their winning goal in their 3-2 win over Spartak Trnava.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Sigma Olomouc players celebrate their winning goal in their 3-2 win over Spartak Trnava.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Kyriakos Savvidis (L) and Alex Ivan (R) of Spartak Trnava celebrate a goal during the thrilling match against eventual match winners Sigma Olomouc on 21 January
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Kyriakos Savvidis (L) and Alex Ivan (R) of Spartak Trnava celebrate a goal during the thrilling match against eventual match winners Sigma Olomouc on 21 January
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Dobrivoy Rusov, goalkeeper of Spartak Trnava dives to his left but is beaten by Sigma Olomouc's Ondrej Zmrzly's (not in picture) perfectly executed free-kick - a goal which made the difference between the two teams on Day 2.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Dobrivoy Rusov, goalkeeper of Spartak Trnava dives to his left but is beaten by Sigma Olomouc's Ondrej Zmrzly's (not in picture) perfectly executed free-kick - a goal which made the difference between the two teams on Day 2.

Tournament Participants

Slovak Fortuna Liga top side Spartak Trnava who edged out Maltese club Mosta last summer in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League, got the tournament proceedings going when they met Austrian club side WSG Tirol in the first match of the tournament in beautiful weather at the National Stadium, Ta’ Qali on Tuesday, January 18. The Slovaks prevailed over last year’s edition winners, beating them 2-0.

Upon their arrival on the island, the Slovak outfit were occupying second place in the Slovak Fortuna Liga table, four points adrift of Slovan Bratislava, making the most of the training camp and tournament to get back into shape for the renewal of the league back home.

The same cannot be said about WSG Tirol, the Austrian team who were third from bottom in Austria’s Admiral Bundesliga before the tournament kicked off, and have had to work hard to evade the big drop.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | An interesting spectator on Day 2 was none other than Diana Langes-Swarovski, club president of WSG Tirol.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | An interesting spectator on Day 2 was none other than Diana Langes-Swarovski, club president of WSG Tirol.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Ondrej Zmrzly of Sigma Olomouc celebrated scoring his winner against Spartak Trnava.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Ondrej Zmrzly of Sigma Olomouc celebrated scoring his winner against Spartak Trnava.

The other two teams which took part in this year’s edition were SK Sigma Olomouc from the Czech Republic and newcomers AA Aalborg from Denmark who crossed swords on the same day at the same venue, with SK Sigma coming out on top with a clear 3-0 win. SK Sigma were placed 10th in their respective league, with Aalborg BK occupying 4th position in their country’s 3F Superliga.

On day two, WSG Tirol ended a thrilling 2-2 draw against Aalborg BK, with SK Sigma registering their second win on the trot as they beat FC Spartak Trnava 3-2 in the best match of the tournament. The Tirol outfit had none other than their club President, Diana Langes-Swarovski watching in the stands, who found the time to visit Malta to see her team in action first-hand. Coming from the prominent Swarovski family, her grandfather Daniel Swarovski is the founder of the Austrian crystal jewelry manufacturing company which has had a longstanding involvement with Tirol football clubs.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | All eyes were on Sebastian Kosa, centre-back of Spartak Trnava, still only 18, and regarded as one of the most promising talents in Slovakia.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | All eyes were on Sebastian Kosa, centre-back of Spartak Trnava, still only 18, and regarded as one of the most promising talents in Slovakia.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Martin Škrtel (2nd R) of Spartak Trnava chests the ball against Aalborg BK in the final day of the tournament.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Martin Škrtel (2nd R) of Spartak Trnava chests the ball against Aalborg BK in the final day of the tournament.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Spartak Trnava's Alex Ivan (L) enjoyed a positive tournament, scoring 4 goals in the process and voted best player of the tournament.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Spartak Trnava's Alex Ivan (L) enjoyed a positive tournament, scoring 4 goals in the process and voted best player of the tournament.

The final day of the tournament provided two other exciting matches: Sigma Olomouc consolidated their dominance by taking home the final victory in a 3-0 win against WSG Tirol – they won all three of their matches in the tournament. Earlier on, Spartak Trnava drew 1-1 against Aalborg BK. The former Liverpool great Martin Skrtel, now 37 –  who has also donned the jerseys of Turkey’s Fenerbache, Istanbul Basaksehir, and Atalanta Bergamo in the Italian Serie A – was now back in his home country with Spartak Trnava. He was the attraction during the 1-1 draw against Aalborg as he spearheaded rearguard Sebastian Kosa, the 18-year-old promising youngster from Slovakia.

Spartak Trnava’s Alex Ivan enjoyed a positive tournament, scoring four goals, and was eventually voted as the best player of the tournament.

Tournament winners SK Sigma Olomouc finished with maximum points from their three matches played, followed by FC Spartak Trnava with four points, Aalborg BK with two points, and WSG Tirol with only one.

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Lukáš Greššák (L) of Sigma Olomouc moves away from Thomas Kotlar (L) and Timotej Kudlijka (R) both of Spartak Trnava during the match between the first two best placed teams.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Lukáš Greššák (L) of Sigma Olomouc moves away from Thomas Kotlar (L) and Timotej Kudlijka (R) both of Spartak Trnava during the match between the first two best placed teams.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | In the only match played in wintry conditions, Gregorie Florent Paulolo (R) of Sigma Olomouc jumps high to anticipate Thomas Sabitzer (L) of WSG Tirol in the final match of the tournament on 24 January.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | In the only match played in wintry conditions, Gregorie Florent Paulolo (R) of Sigma Olomouc jumps high to anticipate Thomas Sabitzer (L) of WSG Tirol in the final match of the tournament on 24 January.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Sigma Olomouc players and officials celebrate winning the fourth edition of the Tipsport Malta Cup 2022 after their 3-0 win over WSG Tirol.
IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina | Sigma Olomouc players and officials celebrate winning the fourth edition of the Tipsport Malta Cup 2022 after their 3-0 win over WSG Tirol.

Final Standings

SK Sigma Olomouc 9 points; FC Spartak Trnava 4; Aalborg BK 2; WSG Tirol 1. 

The tournament was aired live locally and in the four home-countries of the teams represented in the tournament, generating a 3,300 bed night with over 43 media representatives who travelled to Malta to cover the tournament and other related events. As in previous editions, all the logistical arrangements for the four-team tournament and other related activities were handled by MFA SportsPlus Limited with the support of the Malta Tourism Authority, the Malta FA and Tipsport. Malta being one of the countries with the lowest Covid-19 incidence worldwide, the 2022 edition took place in accordance with the strict Covid-19 measures in Malta.

Words and photography by Domenic Aquilina. Specializing in photo reportage, the Maltese photographer has covered fourteen UEFA Champions League finals, plus numerous UEFA Champions League matches and other UEFA official matches. See his work with IMAGO here.

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