The Malta waterpolo national team were drawn to face hosts Croatia and Olympic silver medallists Greece in the 2022 European Championship finals as the draws of the continental competition were held on Saturday night.
Karl Izzo’s men booked their place in the continental finals in Split earlier this year when they placed second in the qualifying tournament that was played at the National Pool earlier this year.
This will be the fourth time that the Malta national team has reached the European finals where the top teams on the continent will vie for the prestigious title – an unprecedented feat for any Maltese national team.
It is interesting to note that in all four participations, Malta has always been pitted against the home side in the group stage.
But Izzo’s men are set for a tough qualifying group when they come up against Croatia who are organising the tournament for a third time after hosting the championships in 1983 in Split and then in Zagreb in 2010.
The strengths of Croatia and Greece in international waterpolo is all for there to see as the Croatians will be hellbent to reclaim the European title on home soil while Greece will be looking to go one better than the Tokyo Olympics when they were beaten in the final by Serbia.
On the other hand, France are developing into a formidable outfit and no doubt the Maltese players will be given some tough work-outs ahead of the positional play-offs where the national team will be looking to avoid the bottom spot in the championships.
The tournament will be played in the mighty Spaladium Arena, the multisport-venue constructed in 2008 to host the men’s handball World Championships and it has been site for a series of major sport events and concerts ever since.
It can accommodate more than 10,000 fans so the players can get ready for some noise.
The highlight of the men’s tournament’s prelims is definitely the clash of Olympic champion Serbia and title-holder Hungary, just as the battle of world champion Italy and Montenegro.
Newcomers Israel are to see some hard moments against the Serbs and the Hungarians. 2020 runner-up Spain might have an easier run but the fight for the other ranks shall be exciting among Romania, Netherlands and Germany.
The championships kick off on 27 August, the women’s final is on 9 September, while the men’s title is to be decided on 10 September.
GROUP A: Italy, Georgia, Slovakia, Montenegro.
GROUP B: Greece, Malta, France, Croatia.
GROUP C: Romania, Germany, Spain, Netherlans.
GROUP D: Serbia, Hungary, Israel, Slovenia.