The 2022 waterpolo national league gets underway on Tuesday evening with the opening matches from the Preliminary Round. National team coach Karl Izzo is expecting a keen battle for both this year’s title challenge as well as a place in the Premier League.
This year’s championship will be contested by a record 12 teams with the inclusion of Barracuda who are making their first appearance in the national championship after an absence of several years.
Birżebbuġa and Valletta will get the action under way and Izzo said that he is looking forward to what promises to be a very hard-fought campaign.
“I’m really excited for the start of the season that will lead us to name the 15-man squad that will compete for a fourth time in the European Championships in Split in August,” Izzo said.
“I’m expecting a very hard-fought championship, similar to what happened in the Enemed Cup and the Winter League, but it’s likely to be far tougher as all teams will welcome back to their fold players who plied their trade abroad in the past months and therefore, it will be at full strength.
“In my opinion, the title race will again be a three-way battle between Sliema, Neptunes and San Ġiljan. Neptunes start as favourites but Sliema and San Ġiljan have bolstered their team with some fresh young blood that will push them closer to the Balluta Bay team.
“This is going to be the last championship without foreign players due to the club’s financial struggles caused by COVID-19. The absence of foreigners has been beneficial for the game here as many young Maltese players were given more playing time and have improved significantly over the past three years.”
Turning his sights towards the battle for a place in the Premier Division, Izzo predicted as many as five teams will battle for a place in the top flight.
“The race for the remaining three places in the Premier League will be hard to predict,” Izzo said.
“Last year, we had the surprise of seeing Exiles and Sirens end up in the First Division and this year I believe there will be five teams battling for a top-flight berth, Marsaskala, Valletta, Birżebbuġa, Sirens and Exiles.
“It’s going to be a fierce battle with all these teams bolstered by some new elements, and it will be interesting to see who will make the cut.
“Added to that, this year we have clubs like Ta’ Xbiex who will have young elements from Sliema and Marsaxlokk who will have several youngsters from Neptunes, who will be more competitive while Otters, buoyed by a new Hungarian coach, are improving continuously and will be hard to beat while Barracuda are back and are also showing promising signs in their first season back.”
The Malta national coach said that he expects a far higher level of play in this year’s championship compared to last year when players’ preparation was hampered by COVID-19.
“I’m convinced that this year will be a different story as all players are much better prepared than last year,” Izzo said.
“I’m just coming back from the Champions League Final Eight, and this year the level of competition was far higher than last year where players were hampered by their fitness due to the continuous stoppages due to COVID-19.
“It’s going to be a very hard-fought championship with all players preparing for a very hectic summer that will see our U-16 national team competing in the world championships, our senior national team taking part in the European Championships in Split and our U-19s participating in the European Championships in Montenegro in September.”
PLAYING ON TUESDAY
Valletta vs Birżebbuġa 18.15
Marsaxlokk vs San Ġiljan 19.20
Exiles vs Barracudas 20.25