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Watch: Izzo hails team character against Croatia in European Championship opener

Malta waterpolo national team coach Karl Izzo said that he was proud of his players for the character they showed against hosts Croatia in their opening match at the European Championships in Split on Monday.

The Maltese side were beaten by tournament favourites Croatia 19-5 but for large parts of the first two sessions, Izzo’s boys managed to contain their opponents with excellent defensive play, inspired by goalkeeper Jake Tanti, who pulled off a string of fine saves.

“I am happy to a certain point by the final result as we managed to contain Croatia, who are ranked fourth in the world and were playing on home soil, for long stretches in the first two sessions,” Izzo told the Times of Malta.

“All the players produced a gallant display right from the outset. My biggest fear before the match was that the players would be aware that they were going to lose heavily and would take the water with a fearsome approach.

“But apart from the first two minutes, where we conceded two quick goals, we started to play our game, attacked the opponent and managed to score goals. Added to that our zonal defensive play was excellent. Here I have to heap praise on goalkeeper Jake Tanti who did very well and thanks to him we could play zone very well.”

Izzo also said that he was pleased that he was able to make a lot of changes throughout the match without effecting the team’s performance.

“A very important factor for me was the fact that I made a lot of changes through the flying substitutions rule and the team continued to play well,” Izzo said.

“To be trailing Croatia 5-2 after the first two sessions quite impressive considering that we were playing in front of a passionate Croatian crowd. But then, inevitably, fatigue started to creep into my players and the fact that we didn’t have too much match practice started to leave its toll.  

“The Croatians have been training together since last May and played five major tournaments and that made a huge difference in the end.

“But I am very proud of my players and given the circumstances they certainly gave a very good account of themselves.”

Next up for Malta is a clash against Greece who on Monday were held by France to a 12-12 draw, a result that will see these two sides eye big wins over Karl Izzo’s team to book a qualifying berth on a better goal difference.

“Our focus is already on the match against Greece,” Izzo said.

“The result of the match between France and Greece certainly didn’t help us as they will both be seeking a high-scoring win against us to progress with Croatia to the next round.

“But we need to focus on ourselves and make sure that we can continue to improve our game and try and make life difficult for our opponents.”

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