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National teams eyeing medals' positions

Basketball will always have a special place in the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE). Way back in 1985, our basketball team clinched the only medal for Malta at the first GSSE edition in San Marino.

Malta owes basketball a special recognition. The team avoided a very embarrassing situation as our contingent was of the verge of returning empty-handed. Led by coach John Tabone, Malta beat Andorra 71-66 but narrowly lost to Luxembourg (88-81) and Cyprus (91-83).

It was a close affair as Luxembourg, Malta and Andorra all finished on equal points. Luxembourg took silver thanks to a better score average whereas Malta notched the bronze after winning the direct encounter against Andorra. Cyprus were the gold-medal winners.

Two years later, in Monaco '87, the basketball team came agonisingly close to winning a gold or silver medal. Playing in front of their own supporters, Monaco turned the tables on Tabone's players in the final minutes to win by a slim margin (87-83).

Malta then edged out Cyprus (77-71) to finish second in the group. With another bronze there for the taking, the Maltese played an excellent match against San Marino (91-75) to win yet another bronze.

Despite these two positive performances, the basketball team failed to maintain its momentum and it was only in Malta in 1993 that another bronze medal was won.

While the men's team faltered, losing four of its five matches, the women's side managed a hard-fought win against Cyprus (39-36) and finished third.

The best performance by the men's national team was in 1997, in Iceland, when Malta won the silver medal.

Since then, our performances have not been good enough to push our squad into the medals zone.

The women's competition will be making a return to the GSSE following its baptism of fire in 1993. This will be the fourth time that the ladies' team will be participating in these games having won a second bronze medal in 1997 in Iceland.

The men's team will include some new faces from the squad that competed in San Marino two years ago.

Maltese-Australian Mark Micallef is expected to be selected in the national team which has been drawn in Group B together with Iceland, Andorra and San Marino.

Micallef has been in Malta since the beginning of May and his presence is expected to boost the national team in its bid to end a barren run at the GSSE.

Besides the expertise of national coach Joe Galea, the players are currently being monitored by Antonio de Torres Moreno from the Spanish federation. The Spaniard has a wealth of experience and has led a number of national teams from small states in previous years.

The Icelanders are firm favourites to top Group B. However, if our players manage to get the better of Andorra and San Marino, they will be in the reckoning for a medal. Group A will comprise Cyprus, Monaco and Luxembourg.

Carlo Farrugia will be leading the women's team. The squad is now also under the watchful eye of Italian Santino Coppa who led Acer Priolo to the European title in 1989 and the Italian Championship in 2000.

Since four teams will be competing in Malta, a round-robin system will determine the final placings. The women's team is all geared up to take on the likes of Iceland, Luxembourg and Cyprus come the first week of June.

Last weekend, the team showed progress in an international tournament at the University Sports Complex, the venue which will host all the basketball matches.

The three matches played against England, Scotland and an Italian Selection should provide the right tonic before the actual GSSE encounters in June.

The two national teams will be travelling to Sicily later this month to play international friendly matches against Sicilian teams.

GSSE programme

Men's competition
Tuesday, June 3 - Malta-Iceland, 8.30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 4 - Malta-Andorra, 8.30 p.m.
Thursday, June 5 - Malta-San Marino, 8.30 p.m.
Friday, June 6 - Semi-finals.
Saturday, June 7 - Finals.

Women's competition
Tuesday, June 3 - Malta-Iceland, 11.30 a.m.
Thursday, June 5 - Malta-Luxembourg, 11.30 a.m.
Friday, June 6 - Malta-Cyprus, 11.30 a.m.

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