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Team spirit the key behind Under-15 waterpolo historic result – Valletta

Jonathan Valletta (third right) speaks to his players during their win over Romania.

The Malta Under-15 waterpolo national team will cap what has been a memorable participation at the European Championships when they face Germany in the play-off for ninth place in Podgorica on Sunday.

The team led by Jonathan Valletta and Ryan Coleiro rewrote the country’s history books in international waterpolo after securing a historic top 10 placing at these championships after dominating their group and only just missing out on a place in the quarter-finals after a close defeat to the Netherlands.

However, the Maltese youngsters bounced back in style after that setback as back-to-back wins over Poland and Romania ensured that the team would finish among the top ten countries at this level, something never achieved by a Maltese waterpolo national team.

“I couldn’t be more satisfied and proud with every individual in this team,” Valletta told the Times of Malta.

“We started the tournament on the wrong foot as our flight had been delayed significantly and after a whole day of travelling the players slept just five hours before the first game.

“Our captain Sam Engerer was sick and missed the first games of the tournament and is still recovering.

“Despite these setbacks this the team showed character and determination even though for most of the players this was their first international experience.

“Our initial goal was to make it to the top 16 but once we saw the possibility of winning the group we started to believe in a top 12 ranking. We are now top 10, something never achieved before in Maltese waterpolo. Therefore, I am much more than satisfied with this achievement.”

Valletta said that this result is remarkable when one considers the lack of depth in particular key positions in the team but hailed the commitment and dedication of his players who worked hard towards achieving this result.

“When I took over the team, I realised that we had a lack of players who could play some vital tactical roles and basic positions and this was my main concern especially in attack,” he said.

“Therefore I had to ensure to focus on offensive defensive tactics to make up for this shortcoming without being vulnerable in defence. The players followed my instructions to the letter and understood well what they had to do.

“They all had their own role to perform and they did that to perfection. This team can go far in the future but need to be backed by serious investment.

“The ASA is already investing a lot but needs more financial support.

“Clubs are also investing a lot in terms of engaging foreign coaches from waterpolo’s elite countries. However, pool space and training time is limited and surely not enough for us to make the grade to top eight in any age group.

“This becomes more difficult at seniors level because other nations train three to four hours daily. Top eight in Europe train even more than that, starting from their youngsters.”

Valletta identified the great team spirit that exists in his squad as the winning formula behind this success.

“The most inspiring aspect is that every player in the team plays for the team and there is no one individual who puts personal success and glory ahead that of the team,” the former Sirens ASC stalwart said.

“This is the most selfless team I have ever seen and I am so proud that Ryan Coleiro and I managed to achieve this despite most of the players in the team coming from the biggest rival teams in local waterpolo.”

Turning his sights on Sunday’s match against Germany, Valletta said that the players are determined to end the tournament on a high but admits they are set for a very difficult test.

“It will be another difficult and intense game,” he said.

“Malta has never beaten Romania in waterpolo but we managed to do it on Friday. We have never beaten Germany, which is a very strong nation in waterpolo, but we will surely do our best to try and beat them.

“The kids are determined to do well, the spirit is high and we are all focused. We will accept whatever comes out of this game and we will keep our head held high. We want to win, no doubt about that, and we will do our best to achieve a better position. We have a strong winning mentality and want to ensure that we have no regrets at the end of these European Championships.

“The level of this team and also the older age groups (U-17 and U-20) has improved over older generations thanks to the investment by the clubs and the ASA.

“As I mentioned earlier, the main problem is pool space and pool time which is not enough to exploit the potential of these players.

“I therefore would like to take the opportunity to make a plea to the government to support waterpolo even more than it is already doing. This sport can seriously promote our little island and place us on the map of waterpolo’s elite countries if we really have the right education systems in place to promote elite waterpolo players.

“I’d like to thank the clubs for the physical preparation of the players, the ASA for the opportunity, support and investment, Karl Izzo personally for the trust shown in me and my management team, Kenneth Camilleri, assistant coach Ryan Coleiro, our physio Jed El Saghir, and Head of Delegation Karl Galea.

“Last but certainly not least the players, my lions as I call them, for listening to me and trusting me blindly even though sometimes I demand a lot from them. Thank you for your selfless play, determination, and resilience.”

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