Italy have grabbed the last spot to make it to the World Cup in a dramatic fashion. They drew with the Lebanese and go through on Point difference. The Russians retain their ttile as Slavic Champions defeating the Serbians in the Milan Kasanovic Cup.
There were tears aplenty and high emotions on both sides in Belgrade as Italy became the 14th and final nation to qualify for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup for the first time in their history.
The Azzurri secured a place in Group C of the main tournament on points’ difference thanks to a 78th minute drop goal from scrum half Ryan Ghietti, given by referee Thierry Alibert, which secured a 19-19 draw with luckless Lebanon.
The Cedars had fought back from an 18-0 half time deficit and looked set to have prized victory when Nadim Couri’s one-pointer edged them in front with only four minutes remaining.
However, from the restart, Lebanon fumbled possession and in the resulting set, Northern Pride’s Ghietti struck to devastating effect.
The difference for qualification ultimately came down to Lebanon not scoring enough points in the second half of their match in Russia the week before when, having built up a 26 point lead, they were restricted to only one other score in the second period while Italy’s bigger win over Serbia saw them go into the crunch clash with an eight point advantage.
The outcome left Italian coach Carlo Napolitano in a state of shock. “My overwhelming feeling is one of joy and relief,” he said. “When Lebanon slotted their drop goal over to lead I slumped into my chair, it was a surreal moment, I thought it was 1999 again when we lost to the Cedars in a World Cup qualifier.”
“I called for a short kick off and we managed to get the ball back and equalise, I can hardly believe it,” he added.
“We lost Ranieri and Ciraldo in the first half with shoulder and rib injuries and, full credit to Lebanon, they attacked us and knew we couldn’t get relief from bench.”
“In terms what the result means to rugby league in Italy, its hard gauge moment. I hope the public support us and numbers get down to the clubs in the country to grow the sport over the next important two years.”
A first minute altercation in front of a vibrant Serbian crowd set the tone for a physical encounter but poor discipline by Lebanon – including dissent – proved to be their initial undoing, losing the penalty count 7-2 in the first half, and 11-6 overall, when they conceded three converted tries.
By the end of the first quarter, prop Alex Ranieri and back rower Cameron Ciraldo had been forced from the field but when the Cedars failed to diffuse a steepling bomb and conceded a second set of six near their own line, Italian loose forward Ben Falcone latched on to a fine offload to open the scoring, Josh Mantellato goaling.
On the half hour, Lebanon looked as though they would level but a knock on ruined a long Nick Kassis break and almost immediately Italy struck for their second score, Ben Stewart crossing and Mantellato adding the extras.
The impressive Wyong winger, who has had a terrific qualifying tournament, then went over five minutes from the break on the end of a flowing passing move, the decisive last, long ball coming from skipper Anthony Minichiello; Mantellato landing the conversion to take his points tally to ten.
Lebanon, revived by coach David Baysarri’s exhortations during the interval, came out with renewed intent at the start of the second period, a long Ray Moujali break in the 42nd minute again ending in squandered possession.
Soon after, another Kassis bust set the position Adnan El Zabedieh to go over, Couri goaling and momentum began to shift.
It was transformed with two tries in as many minutes in the lead up to the hour as first Moujali powered over and, with the Cedars making ground with every set, a kick on the last tackle took a fortunate bounce and James Boustani was on hand to take a scoring offload, Couri adding his third successful conversion to level.
The final, increasingly tense and dramatic quarter looked to be heading for stalemate as the Italian defence tightened, Couri missing a drop goal attempt with eight minutes to go.
He landed his next effort but then, with the short kick off spilt, Ghietti stepped up to be the hero.
It was Lebanon’s third draw, after two against Ireland in the lead up to the 2008 World Cup, and again it ultimately cost them qualification.
ITALY 19 (18)
Anthony Minichiello, Josh Mantellato, Dom Nasso, Matt Parrata, Christophe Calegari, Ben Stewart, Ryan Ghietti, Alex Ranieri, Ray Nasso, Vic Mauro, Cameron Ciraldo, Joel Riethmuller, Ben Falcone Subs: Dean Vicelich, Rob Quitadamo, Ryan Tramonte, Rhys Lenarduzzi
Tries: Falcone (23), Stewart (31), Mantellato (35)
Goals: Mantellato 3/3
LEBANON 19 (0)
Adnan Saleh, Adnan El Zabedieh, Danny Barakat, Adham Elzabedieh, Clifton Nye, James Boustani, Nadim Couri, Charlie Farah, Jamie Clark, Khaled Deeb, Ahmed Ellaz, Steve Azzi, Ray Moujali Subs: Chris Saab, Nick Kassis, Allen Soultan, Robin Hachache
Tries: Adnan El Zabedieh (24), Moujali (54), Boustani (58)
Goals: Couri 3/3
A hat trick of tries by RC Vereya centre Petr Botnarash – who was also sinbinned – proved to be the difference as Russia defeated Serbia 36-28 in Belgrade to take the Milan Kosanovic Cup, as part of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers.
Neither nation could make the group stages of the World Cup after European Zone Qualifier defeats to Italy and Lebanon but staged their own battle for the newly inaugurated trophy after both had beaten Ukraine during the summer.
Coming away from three tough weeks of competition with silverware gave great satisfaction to Russia head coach John Stankevich,
“I’m delighted that we were able to pick up the win,” he said. “Some of the team management and players expected us to, which made it difficult for the team not to be over-excited.”
“We knew that they were well organized but at 16-0 ahead we thought we were going to walk away with it and they came back strongly.”
The visitors opened the scoring in the fifth minute, through winger Alexey Volkov after the Serbians had lost possession on their own 10 metre line following a Russian kick on the last tackle.
Serbia dominated the next quarter hour, gaining repeat sets on the back of three penalties but they were unable to score against resolute Bears defence.
Two tries in as many minutes, sandwiching the yellow carding of Miloš Ćalić for an attack on the kicker, both to Botnarash and goaled by Aleksandr Lysokon established a healthy lead but the hosts finished the first half in the ascendancy.
Experienced hooker Zoran Pesic scooted over in the 35th minute from acting half back and, on the back of further penalty awards, Pesic turned instigator, his offload sending in Adam Nedic to make it 16-12 at the break, the stand off also adding the extras.
Russia regained the initiative at the start of the second period, capitalising on a knock on by full back Ivan Susnjara from a raking kick along the ground, Grigory Esin taking advantage to cross.
Ten minutes later, following a superb 40/20, skipper Eduard Ososkov darted over in the left corner, Lysokon adding a penalty on the hour to make it 30-12.
Serbia again hit back with three tries in nine minutes to close to within two points and set up a dramatic finish.
Susnjara made amends and Hemel prop Ilija Radan forced his way over, Russia looking in danger of being overrun when Botnarash was sin binned in the 69th minute for persistent offending.
Austen Novakovic went in two minutes later to get the crowd on their feet but further Serbian pressure failed to find the crucial score.
Instead, Botnarash returned and busted the line to go 70 metres for the try that sealed victory.
Serbia vice captain, Soni Radovanovic noted, “I’m very disappointed because we worked really hard for this match.”
“It was expected that we would lose against Italy and Lebanon, but we thought we had very good chance against Russia. We dropped the ball a couple of times when we had opportunities at the end and you can’t do that if you expect to win. That was probably Serbia’s best performance against Russia.”
SERBIA 28 (12)
Ivan Susnjara, Aleksandar Aleksic, Miloš Ćalić, Stevan Stevanovic, Radovan Tajsic, Adam Nedic, Dalibor Vukanovic, Ilija Radan, Austen Novakovic, Dejan Lukenic, Soni Radovanovic, Stefan Nedeljkovic, Vuk Turdisic. Subs: Nebojša Živanović, Danilo Delic, Zoran Pesic, Nikša Unkovic
Tries: Pesic (35), Nedic (39), Susnjara (62), Radan (68), Novakovic (71)
Goals: Nedic 4/5
RUSSIA 36 (16)
Maksim Suchkov, Rustam Bulanov, Petr Botnarash, Mikhail Burlutskiy, Alexey Volkov, Aleksandr Lysokon, Eduard Ososkov, Sergey Konstantinov, Vladimir Vlasyuk, Ilgiz Galimov, Alexey Nikolaev, Grigory Esin, Sergey Gaponov. Subs: Vadim Fedchuk, Artem Grigoryan, Igor Chuprin, Anatolij Grigorev
Tries: Volkov (5), Botnarash (24, 26, 79), Esin (46), Ososkov (55)
Goals: Lysokon 6/7
Rugby League European Federation Chairman Richard Lewis has paid tribute the nations competing in what he called a, “compelling, thrilling and hugely successful” qualifying competition for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, which is to be staged in England and Wales.
The process, which has featured both Atlantic and European Zones, came to end in Belgrade on Saturday when Italy claimed the 14th and final berth after a dramatic 19-19 draw with Lebanon; the Azzurri taking the place by virtue of a better points’ difference.
They join the USA who made the Finals after defeating Jamaica the week before, both the Tomahawks and the Italians being World Cup debutants.
“It has been a wonderful three weeks of exciting and competitive rugby league involving seven nations that has showcased the huge progress being made in international rugby league worldwide,” he continued.
“Each nation has made a significant contribution and should be commended first and foremost for the number of domestically-produced players that have appeared in their squads.”
“There is an enormous amount of development work being taken on the ground, supported by the RLEF, which is illustrated by the quality we have seen on the field. The sport as a whole should be very proud of the genuine progress being made.”
He added, “There are huge positives for all the nations who took part and a model now for the up and coming ones to aspire to and emulate. The likes of Jamaica, Serbia, South Africa, Russia and Lebanon are already planning for the next shot at a World Cup, which will be in the qualifying
for which is set to start in 2015.”
“Club rugby in those and our other member nations is increasing apace, participation numbers are on the increase at senior, junior and university level and these are genuinely exciting times.”
“I am equally convinced that, with two years to prepare and a massive amount of goodwill and support, that USA and Italy will make a major contribution to the World Cup tournament here in 2013.”
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