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Watch: National team ready for Barcelona challenge – Izzo

Team's goal is to improve on 15th placing achieved in Belgrade in 2016

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Malta coach Karl Izzo sounded pleased with the national team’s preparations as this evening they head to Barcelona to take part in the 2018 European Championships that get under way on Monday.

This is the second time that the national team are taking part in the elite continental competition.

In 2016, Izzo also led the team in their maiden participation and managed to avoid bottom spot when placing 15th from 16 countries.

This time round, Malta were drawn in Group A and will open their commitments on Monday night against hosts Spain before facing Montenegro on Wednesday.

Malta end their group commitments when they face France today week.

Izzo said that the championships provided a fantastic challenge for his players as they will be up against Europe’s top national teams.

Still the team’s main goal remained that of improving on the 15th place achieved in Belgrade two years ago.

“I’m really pleased with the preparation levels of my players,” Izzo told a news conference.

“The fact that we are in the middle of our national league didn’t give us the opportunity of training together as a team for a long period of time. We started our proper preparation last Sunday and the players looked in very good physical form and that is all merit to our clubs.

“We are heading to Barcelona with our the most in-form 13 players at present and our goal has to be to reconfirm the position achieved in Belgrade two years ago and maybe even finish in a higher position.”

Izzo’s final 13-man list submitted to LEN includes two changes from the squad that featured against Belarus in the qualifying play-off late last year.

Darren Zammit and Zach Mizzi were left out by Izzo and were replaced by Sliema duo Michael Spiteri Staines and Jerome Gabaretta.

“I think that the inclusion of Spiteri Staines and Gabaretta will give the team an added impetus in Barcelona,” Izzo said.

“Spiteri Staines has been in great form for his club Sliema this summer and being a left-handed player he will provide us with new options when attacking.

“On the other hand, Gabaretta is without doubt the best centre in Maltese waterpolo and he only missed the Belarus game as he was unavailable. I don’t think anyone can doubt his credentials to be part of our team.”

Izzo said that Spain and Montenegro will provide the toughest test in Barcelona while on the other hand he hoped that his team could provide a better challenge against France.

“Facing the hosts Spain in our opening match will be a great experience for the players,” Izzo said.

“Spain and Montenegro are two matches where it’s unlikely that we will take something from them as we are talking about two of the favourites for the tournament.

“Spain are being bolstered by Brazilian-born Felipe Perrone, who in my view is the best player in the world and has just been handed a Spanish passport.

“On the other hand Montenegro are skippered by Aleksandr Ivovic, who we all remember him last season with San Ġiljan, and are fresh from winning the World League.

“France, on the other hand, have changed a lot since their participation in the Olympics and are in the process of rebuilding their squad. I’m not saying that we have a chance to beat them but hopefully we can get a better result than two years ago when we lost 17-7.” During yesterday’s news conference the ASA unveiled the national team’s clothing for the European Championships.

The uniforms for both the national team players and the ASA officials in Barcelona have been supplied by sponsors DIZZ Group.

Group A fixtures
Monday: 10.15pm Spain vs Malta.
Wednesday: 5pm Montenegro vs Malta.
Friday, July 20: 6.30pm Malta vs France.

The squad
N. Grixti (Sirens), J. Tanti (San Ġiljan), J. Gabaretta (Sliema), A. Galea (San Ġiljan), J. Abela (Neptunes), M. Spiteri Staines (Sliema), M. Zammit (San Ġiljan), S. Camilleri (Neptunes), J. Camilleri (Neptunes), B. Plumpton (San Ġiljan), A. Cousin (Exiles), N. Bugelli (Sliema), D. Zammit (San Ġiljan).

Karl Izzo (left) talks to the media alongside ASA president Joe Caruana Curran. Photo: Chris Sant FournierKarl Izzo (left) talks to the media alongside ASA president Joe Caruana Curran. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

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