Malta National team coach Milan Cirovic has been encouraged by the little steps of improvement shown by his players during the past few weeks but warned that Maltese waterpolo needs drastic changes if the country is to reach higher targets at international level.
The Montenegrin coach addressed the media just a couple of days before the senior selection heads to Romania to compete in the World Cup Division B where they will be up against Germany, Ukraine, Great Britain, and the host country.
The tournament kicks off on Thursday, but Malta plays its first matches on Friday with a double-header against Germany and Ukraine, before taking on Great Britain on Saturday, and Romania on Sunday morning.
“I am really looking forward to leading the team in this competition which will serve us as a perfect preparation for the European Championship qualifiers that will be held in Malta next June,” Cirovic told the media.
“If you look at the group of players named for this tournament there are no major surprises as I have selected the players who in my opinion are in the best shape at the moment. We have a blend of experienced and young players who I believe can attain a very good result this week.
“During the last month, we have worked really hard even though I would have liked to have more time to hold more sessions with the players. But we still managed to make little steps forward, which at this stage are very important.”
Asked whether he feels that a discussion should start between all stakeholders to introduce a more professional setup for the national team, Cirovic was quite clear in his reply.
“What I know is that all top countries in Europe are working on a professional basis,” Cirovic said.
“I come from Montenegro where in preparation for major tournaments, the national team players spend two months together, holding double sessions every day, and that provides a better platform to accelerate the development process of the team.
“Here in Malta, with the way the waterpolo season is, this is not possible because when the Summer League kicks off all teams want their players to be training with them and therefore cannot hold sessions with the national team.
“I believe that the ASA should align its calendar with the LEN schedule so that the national teams will have more time to train together and by selecting four and five players from every team we will be indirectly helping in the development of the game here.”
For the first two matches of the tournament in Romania, Cirovic will be without captain Dino Zammit who must serve a two-match ban he picked up at the European Championships last year.
Asked what are his expectations for the tournament, Cirovic said: “The most important thing for me in this tournament is the performance of the players rather than the final result.
“This is the first competition and it will be a good opportunity to see how much this group of players can produce against strong opposition. The players will be playing in a different playing system so obviously they need time to function at their very best but this tournament will be an excellent test.
“Personally, I think that we are capable of beating both Ukraine and Great Britain while Romania and Germany are of a higher level than us so it will be interesting to see how our team will compete against them.”
On his return from Romania, Cirovic will also be leading the Malta U-17 team in the European Championship qualifying tournament that will be held at the National Pool at Tal-Qroqq where they will be up against Slovakia, Great Britain, Latvia, and Poland with the top two teams qualifying for the finals to be held in August in Turkey.
On his part, Karl Izzo, the ASA president, said that he was grateful to all the clubs who have given permission to the players to join the national team in preparation for this tournament and said that this cooperation between all stakeholders has been continuous since he was elected as the new head of the association.
Izzo said that the World Cup Group B tournament was a perfect preparation for the senior national team ahead of the European qualifiers in June.
“When I received the invitation for us to compete in this tournament, I accepted immediately as I felt that it would be the perfect preparations ahead of the Euro qualifiers this summer where we hope to see our national team compete for a fifth successive time in the continental finals,” Izzo said.
“This year’s finals were originally planned to be held in Israel in October but from the information I have, it seems that LEN has decided to hold the championships in Belgrade next January instead as the Israelis have failed to meet the necessary requirements to organise the tournament.
“We are also looking forward to the U-17 qualifiers here in Malta. We are competing with the same group of youngsters that at U-15 and U-16 level achieved extraordinary results at both the Euros and the World Cup in Greece so we are expecting a strong performance.
“The goal is to try and finish top of the group as that will put us in a better position to get a more favourable draw for the continental finals where we are targeting a top 12 finish.”
The ASA chief announced that the governing body had sealed a partnership agreement with TeamSport which will provide all the Macron apparel for all national teams in all aquatic sport, namely waterpolo, swimming, artistic swimming, and open water swimming.
“I am really proud to have TeamSport on board and I am sure that this partnership will turn out to be of great success,” Izzo said.
“In the past, it had always been a great financial burden for the association to be able to provide sportswear for its teams. Now we have secured this agreement for the next three years but I have no doubt that we can work together for many more years.”
On his part, Jonathan Darmanin, representing TeamSport, said that he was proud to have joined the ASA family and hoped that this partnership will continue to grow between the two parties for several years.
Jake Tanti (San Ġiljan), Peter Borg (Birżebbuġa), Liam Galea (Sliema), Sam Gialanze (Neptunes), Jake Muscat (Neptunes), Gianni Farrugia (Sirens), Ben Plumpton (San Ġiljan), Jayden Cutajar (Sliema), Jeremy Abela (San Ġiljan), Nikolai Zammit (San Ġiljan), Alec Fenech (Neptunes), Dino Zammit (Sliema), Benjamin Busuttil (Valletta), Benji Cachia (Sliema).
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