Last Saturday, Malta’s national waterpolo team grabbed the headlines when they beat Poland 13-8 to earn a place among the top 16 nations in the Euro 2016 finals to be held in Belgrade in January next year.
This is definitely uncharted territory for our small country.
It was a huge task never before accomplished by Malta, and considering the size of our country and its limited resources this feat must have drawn the envy of bigger nations not only in demographic terms but also as far as prestige is concerned.
Neither can one dismiss the seasonal element of the game in Europe, so alien to Malta’s established time-frame of summer competitions which contrasts sharply with the winter schedules on the continent.
All these handicaps have been overcome by sheer determination and a notable modicum of technical skills which our coaching regime has succeeded in infusing in our national team players.
No wonder coach Karl Izzo was delighted after his team got their act together and beat Poland with something to spare in the Group G Qualification Round Two match last week.
“We reached the target we have been after and for this I thank all the ASA officials, particulary president Joe Caruana Curran for his constant backing for the national teams and for the trust shown in me and my assistant, Anthony Farrugia,” Izzo said.
“All the 13 players responded magni-ficently. Their self-belief was evident and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised that we went beyond my 50-50 predictions after our handsome victory over Poland.
“We passed the test with flying colours.”
Having all the established players at the coaches’ disposal helped towards keeping fluidity and power play at optimal levels despite a couple of injuries.
Izzo had words of praise for every component of his team but singled out captain Niki Lanzon whose evergreen qualites as a playmaker and scorer (he netted eight goals) kept emerging.
Now that Malta’s objective has been reached we will have another cycle which leads us to Belgrade where the going will be tougher as our last match against Germany indicated
He referred to Steve Camilleri as “the player with an outstanding ability to find the opposing net, which he did five times in his limited time in the water,” while also hailing his versatility.
“Luckily his groin injury did not affect him against Poland,” Izzo added.
“We also had Michele Stellini, who netted three goals in all and played very well despite returning to training only in these last days.
“The same can be said of goalkeeper Nicholas Grixti who put in a sound display against Poland.”
“When called to duty all the players did what was expected of them and for this I also thank them.
“Alan Borg Cole, Jerome Gabarretta, (four goals), Matthew and Dino Zammit, Aurelien Cousin, all with three goals each, Mark Meli, Jordan Camilleri and Edward Aquilina, each with two, and Clint Mercieca with one, were all firmly set on keeping Malta’s flag flying,” the coach remarked with satisfaction
Now that Malta’s objective has been reached we will have another cycle which leads us to Belgrade where the going will be much tougher as our last match against Germany indicated.
Will it be too much if the players are given adequate leave in order to undergo thorough and full time preparation leading up to the Belgrade finals in January?
What is certain is that the technical people and the ASA will maintain their forward-looking stance in our learning graph.
This will surely be a guarantee that waterpolo is the avant-guard sport which puts our tiny nation on the map.
Coach Izzo and his assistant Farrugia have echoed these thoughts and in tandem with the ASA will continue working towards this end.