Malta waterpolo coach Karl Izzo believes that team spirit was his side’s winning card after the national team defied the odds to secure an historical top 14 finish at the European Championships in Split Croatia.
Izzo’s men beat Slovenia 13-9 on Sunday and will face Germany in the play-off for 13th place on Tuesday morning (start: 10.30am).
Germany are likely to prove a tough nut to crack for the Maltese players as the Germans headed into the championships with the ambition of finishing among the top eight teams in the continent but lost all their group matches and will be keen to end their campaign on a strong note.
But despite all this, Izzo has made it clear that his players had little pressure on their backs and will go out with all guns blazing as they look to make life difficult for the superior Germans.
“The team will have no pressure on their shoulders as their objective of finishing among the top 14 teams in Europe has already been accomplished,” Izzo told the Times of Malta.
“We will take the water against Germany with a clear mind and try to give our best so that we can hopefully end our campaign with an even better result.
“Whatever happens tomorrow I am already very proud of my players who showed great dedication and that has been rewarded with this incredible result.”
Malta’s excellent display in Split takes further significance when one considers that the national team was shorn of four key members of the squad, namely Jake Muscat, Jordan Camilleri, Stevie Camilleri and Jerome Gabaretta.
Asked what he thought was the secret of his team’s success, Izzo said: “There is no mind in my doubt that the team spirit was fundamental behind this result.
“Having four of the usual initial seven missing, I had to revise my selection plans and brought in players who had no experience at this level. But all the players, who hail from three clubs – San Ġiljan, Neptunes and Sliema – bonded very well together.
“Our team captain, Matthew Zammit, was of great inspiration to the young players in
the squad and this helped so that we produce our best ever performance in a European Championship.”
Turning his sights on Germany, Izzo said that it’s going to be a tough match for his team but they will not fear their opponents.
“Germany is a very strong side,” Izzo said.
“Normally when we face them, they usually beat us by ten or 12 goals and they are a team who came here aspiring for a top eight placing.
“But this campaign went horribly wrong for them as they lost all the three group matches. They have a lot of experience in their team so it’s not going to be easy.
“However, in the same way, that we didn’t fear to play our game against top teams like Croatia, Greece and France, we do the same against the Germans and try to give them a good run for their money.”