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Watch: Coach Izzo confident Malta will secure ticket to European Championship finals

The Malta waterpolo national team will embark on their quest to secure a berth in the European Championship finals for a fourth successive time when they start their commitments in the qualifying tournament at the National Pool this evening.

Karl Izzo’s team will open their commitments against Ireland today before taking on Lithuania tomorrow and group favourites Romania in their final match on Sunday.

Malta waterpolo national team coach Karl Izzo. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

The Malta coach is upbeat that the Malta national team will again deliver the goods and again reconfirm their place among the top 16 countries on the continent this weekend despite he is without key players such as Stevie Camilleri and Jerome Gabaretta among others.

“We have started our preparations just before Christmas when we organised a stage where I could evaluate the players before eventually I announced an enlarged squad at the end of the Enemed Cup,” Izzo told a news conference.

“At the moment, our national team is slowly rejuvenating itself and in fact from the team that competed in the Euro Championships in Budapest two years ago we have five new players in our squad.

“Stevie Camilleri is not with us due to league commitments with his club Muri Antichi while Jerome Gabaretta and Gabriel Pace are unavailable.

“On the other hand, we have some talented young players in the squad like Jake Muscat, who has improved a lot since his move to Montenegro two years ago, Andreas Galea, Jamie Gambin, Jamie Abela and Liam Galea who are showing great promise.

“I am blessed to have many players who are plying their trade abroad and that has surely boosted the technical potential of this team who I believe is capable of attaining a top-two placing and qualification this weekend.”

Izzo said that the team has recently held a training camp at Pro Recco in Italy, where they played a number of friendlies with some top sides such as Savona, who are playing in Serie A1, and the U-20 team of European champions Pro Recco.

Looking ahead of Malta’s opponents in the tournament, Izzo sounded confident that the team has enough potential to qualify.

“We open our commitments against Ireland who is a team that we have not met for several years but I believe that we are superior to them,” Izzo said.

“On the other hand, Lithuania will be a key match for us. They may not be among the top teams in Europe or were close to reaching the Euro finals but they have developed a lot and have some excellent players who are plying their trade abroad so we need to be cautious.

“Then we conclude our commitments against Romania on Sunday where we hope to battle for top spot. Romania are the strongest team in this group, but I am still positive that if we play to our best we can get the win.”

On his part, ASA president Joe Caruana Curran said that he is hopeful the senior national team can maintain the recent positive trend of reaching the continental finals which would further rubberstamp the good work conducted by the governing body in recent years.

ASA president Joe Caruaan Curran. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

“Our goal is to try and build on the positive results achieved in recent years where we managed to participate in the European Championship finals for the last three editions,” Caruana Curran said.

“The fact that our national team has been part of Europe’s top 16 countries shows that we have achieved something very important.

“In the coming years, the goal is to try and continue to improve our standing and the performances achieved by our youth selections in the European tournaments last year show that we are in the right path.

“Our association has invested heavily in the last few years in youth talent with our scheme that encouraged them to go and train with foreign teams. At the moment, we have 15 players engaged with foreign clubs in countries like Spain, Italy and Montenegro.

“The future is bright and I hope that all our achievements will push the authorities and private companies to give their financial support to our sport that has provided our country with so many satisfactions.”

THE SQUAD

N. Grixti (Sliema), J. Muscat (Neptunes), A. Galea (San Ġiljan), J. Gambin, D. Zammit (San Ġiljan), M. Zammit (San Ġiljan), B. Plumpton (San Ġiljan), J. Camilleri (Neptunes), J. Abela (Neptunes), N. Zammit (San Ġiljan), Z. Mizzi (Sliema), D. Zammit (Sliema), J. Tanti (San Ġiljan), L. Galea (Sliema), M. Mifsud (Sliema).

PROGRAMME

PLAYING ON FRIDAY

Romania vs Lithuania  17.00

Malta vs Ireland           18.30

PLAYING ON SATURDAY

Romania vs Ireland     17.00

Malta vs Lithuania       18.30

PLAYING SUNDAY

Ireland vs Lithuania     09.00

Malta vs Romania       10.30

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