Malta have had an impressive start to this year’s FIBA Small Countries Games with wins against Kosovo and Andorra this week, but they will face the toughest tests in games against Cyprus and Norway in their final to commitments of the tournament in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Malta plays Cyprus on Saturday (tip-off: 17.30) on the back of an impressive 76-41 victory over Andorra who, unlike the Maltese, have not had the best of tournaments and are already confirmed out of contention for a medal.
On Thursday, Malta dominated all but blocks and steals against Andorra, with Malta captain Josephine Diaby scoring 21 points to lead the game in scoring, adding eight rebounds throughout the game. Speaking to the Times of Malta, Diaby said it had been a case of studying their opponent well.
“Before each game, every team studies his opponents. Andorra has one good player whom we focused on and we wanted to make sure to keep her out of the game or limit her,” Diaby said.
“We managed to do so, and we also managed to have a good offence thanks also to our defence.
“I felt like we were strong on both sides and focused, and I think they felt this on the court – we were always superior from the start of the game.”
This rings true as only one player from the Andorra team, Claudia Brunet, managed to score double digits when she put up 16 points after playing close to 33 minutes.
Malta faces one of the tournament favourites in Cyprus on Saturday. Prior to the tournament, Diaby had already regarded the team as one of the toughest games along with Norway, whom Malta plays on Sunday.
The Cypriots also already faced Malta a few weeks ago when Malta’s 3×3 roster played for qualification to the FIBA Europe Cup. Cyprus had come out as the victors throughout that weekend, with strong players and dominant play. Three of the four players on the Cypriot team will be present this time around in the full game, as will be the same number of players from the Maltese team.
Speaking about the final two games, Diaby believes that if the players impose themselves on the court from the start, there is a good chance Malta could take Gold.
“The next two games will be games on another level I believe, although I still believe that Kosovo have a good team too,” Diaby admitted.
“Cyprus is a complete team and they also have a good bench. They have dangerous players on any side of the court, although I still believe that we are well prepared for them.
“If everyone does their part and leaves their heart on the court like we are literally playing for the gold medal, it will be possible to win. We have good players in our team and even though I feel like we need to respect them (Cyprus) because they are a complete team, I do also value our team and our abilities.
“We will play in front of their crowd and definitely, this is a plus for them but I think that if we impose ourselves from the beginning of the game, and show some Maltese heart, there is a good chance for us to win the game.
“Personally, I felt like I wanted to play them right after the Andorra game – I’m hungry to win.”