The Malta waterpolo Under-19 squad is heading into a round of qualifiers this week with hopes of making this year’s European Championships in Montenegro next September.
Antony Farrugia’s clan is set to face the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Finland in a set of qualifying games from today until Sunday at the National Pool.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, coach Farrugia said he is confident in his players and believes the side can make it through.
“These are important qualifiers. In our Under-19s, we already have players who play at senior level with their clubs and some even play abroad,” coach Farrugia said.
“These players will soon be knocking on the door of the senior national team. We have two players who will be out, but I believe we have a strong squad.”
Malta will be without Sam Gialanze, who is recovering from a broken nose which he suffered in the local league. Jake Muscat, on the books of Montenegrin club Jadran, will also be unavailable for these games due to him taking part in important finals with his club.
The side kicks off its commitments today against Finland. Farrugia admits that while the Finns are relatively new to the sport, they are seeing significant growth across its community.
“(Finland) is a country that hasn’t played the sport for a long time, maybe five or six years. However, they have good coaches that are touring around Europe so that their waterpolo can grow,” Farrugia explained, “but if we play well on the day, we can surely get those three points.”
Next, the Maltese face Great Britain and Farrugia believes the difference in strength and speed there once was between the sides has now been significantly reduced because Maltese players now have much better training.
“On Friday, we will play the British. Even though these past few years, we have always beaten them, it has always been difficult because we were always more technical while they had strength and speed on their side,” the Malta coach said.
“But nowadays, we have eliminated this discrepancy with the training that our players are getting from their clubs and the national team. So, I believe that who makes the least mistakes will win this time around.”
Malta’s final opponent of the group, the Netherlands, will be a tough nut but Farrugia said that if the side manages to perform well and win the first two games, there should be much less pressure against the Dutch and despite their opponents being ranked among the top 10 in all ages, Malta will give its all with hope of achieving a 100% record.
“If all of this goes well – we’ve worked hard already – there is a very good chance that with our squad, we can qualify. I’m confident, but ultimately each game will decide our faith,” he said.
MALTA U-19 SQUAD: A. Bugeja (Valletta), M. Mifsud (Sliema), D. Tully (San Giljan), D. Rizzo (Sliema), J. Cachia (Neptunes), R. Galea (Neptunes), J. Cutajar (Sliema), M. Castillo (Neptunes), K. Borg (Sliema), J. Bonavia (San Giljan), A. Fenech (Neptunes), G. Farrugia (Sirens), G. Vassallo (San Giljan), R. Caruana (San Giljan), J. Saliba (Sliema).
Malta vs Finland 18.30
Malta vs Great Britain 18.30
Malta vs Netherlands 11.30