Gibraltar Malta’s first opponent on Monday
While hockey has been around since British occupation in Malta, the sport has remained active as a small but tight-knit community that, like every other sport, is aiming to grow. The Malta National Team will be out to challenge for the next step at this year’s European Championships where Malta are currently in Division Three.
Malta’s hockey National Team left the island on Saturday, headed for Skierniewice in Poland to play in Pool A consisting of Gibraltar, Lithuania, Croatia, Serbia, and hosts Poland.
Speaking to the Times of Malta ahead of the tournament which takes place between Monday and next Saturday, new National Team coach Chris Attard believes he has the best squad available.
“We chose the best players that we could pick,” Attard said, “The local league and the association, in general, are a smaller community compared to the other countries we’ll be facing.
“Most of the countries have a higher rating but we’ll still be looking to play our own game and giving our best.”
73rd-ranked Malta face a tough task in imposing their game onto their opponents, teams that Attard claims will “play aggressively against us to close off the game early”.
“As they know that we’re quite a small country, a small community, obviously they’ll be out to play more aggressively to assure themselves early on and rest their players,” Attard, who was officially appointed to the role at the beginning of July, said.
“On the other hand, we’ll still try to play our game – we have our own schemes and style of play so we want to take advantage of our situation so that we can be able to play more counter-attacking and close down to hold off their barrage of attacks.
“Hopefully, when we’ve relaxed and gotten into the game, we can start imposing our game and enjoy it. We want to be stiff opposition and get positive results.”
In preparation for the tournament, the Malta Hockey Association (HAM) set the team up for a couple of friendlies in order to give Attard a clearer image of what needs to be done in Poland.
“We played two friendlies against Sicilian opposition,” Attard explained.
“The aim was to impose our system and we picked opponents that maybe aren’t that difficult, but who will penalise you if you give them the opportunity.
“I believe we reached our targets and had the chance to divide the squad into two to observe each player well because ultimately, the squad is versatile. Most players have two or three roles to cover injuries, fatigue, or disqualification due to cards – things that happen.”
Thomas Degiovanni is the only player in the side plying his trade overseas with English Division One side Canterbury HC, but the side will be banking on various players, some of whom form part of clubs like GREE Sliema Hotsticks and Qormi Daikin which both had impressive runs at this season’s EuroHockey Challenge Division Three tournaments, as well as others from the further three clubs, with six players also making their debut this week.
“The fact that we have a player (Degiovanni) who plays abroad – even though we don’t have the luxury of having many players overseas – makes a big difference as players like him bring with them a lot of experience and style of play,” Attard said.
“The established players that we have are our pillars but then we have our debutants for whom this will be their first showcase so they will definitely want to show their skills and we’re expecting a number of surprises that make our game better. The players are talented, and they can offer a lot.
“Having players who played internationally this year will help us a lot. The clubs did really well because they worked hard – like always but this year reaped more rewards. Obviously, this is an advantage for us as they’ll have more morale seeing as they’ve learned more from this experience abroad and now, they have another stage to present this. We need to show this as Malta’s team.”
Malta faces Gibraltar first on Monday (start: 11.15am).
GOALKEEPERS Aaron Spiteri, Marvin Grixti
DEFENDERS Luke Brincat, Luke Borg Costanzi, Joseph Cuschieri, Christian Sammut, Leon Gatt, Lukas Plaehn, Charlo Sammut.
MIDFIELDERS Keith Calleja, Karl Chircop, Thomas Degiovanni, Zachary De Giovanni, Silas Plaehn.
FORWARDS Christ Agius, Luke Bajada, Anton Saliba, Julian Zahra.
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