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Cirovic, Izzo call for changes in domestic waterpolo competitions after U-17 exploit at Euros

Malta U-17 national coach Milan Cirovic was delighted with the players’ performance after they secured an historic 11th placing at the European Championship finals that were held in Manisa, Turkey last week.

The Maltese youngsters have shown their potential at the continental championships which saw them not only secure victories against Georgia and Ukraine but also hold their own against waterpolo powerhouses Germany and Italy before rounding up their commitments with a stunning 13-9 victory over France that ensured their best-ever placing in this competition.

Coach Cirovic was proud of the effort put in by his players, particularly due to the fact that his players had very little time to prepare for this tournament.

“The boys gave their maximum effort, and I am satisfied with the commitment and professionalism they have shown during this high-level tournament,” Cirovic told the Times of Malta.

“I am happy that we managed to finish in 11th place, which is our best-ever placing at this tournament, and certainly firmly confirms the great progress of these players during the past months.

“However, I am not satisfied, as I am convinced that this team has the potential to go even further.

“If you look at Germany as an example, they finished one place above Malta, yet they have been preparing for this tournament for the past two months, including participation in high-level tournaments.

“Our preparation lasted three days, considering that the tournament comes in the middle of an intense and busy local waterpolo championship.

“Imagine how our level can improve if we had the same opportunity to train together for a full two months, with five-hour sessions every day and that is something that we need to look into.”

Cirovic said that this excellent result should be the catalyst of a mentality change and inject more determination among the players and the association to work harder and maximise the potential of this team.

“This result is a confirmation that this is team is continuously improving and is on the right track,” the Montenegrin coach said.

“But, of course, there is much much more to do. This is just the beginning. We have a long-term plan prepared which myself and my staff will continue to work on, in order to achieve better results.

“Apart from being considered as the 11th strongest team in Europe, in this category, playing at par with the likes of Italy (a waterpolo powerhouse), Germany, and beating France, gives us the courage to continue moving forward with tenacity and a positive mentality.

“We have had positive feedback from the top teams during this tournament, and Malta is now being considered as a team not to be underestimated.”

Cirovic said that in the Malta U-17 squad there are several players who are knocking the door on the national team and confirmed that some of them will be part of the senior selection ahead of the 2024 European Championship


However, Cirovic said that it was crucial that the ASA must effect changes to provide more time for these players to train together to become an even stronger team.

“There is a good number of talented youngsters in this group of players, who are at the doorstep of the senior national team,” Cirovic, who is also the senior national coach, said.

“In fact, I can confirm that I will be including a number of players from this generation in the next senior team call-up for preparation for the LEN Senior European Championships being held in Israel next January.

“Obviously, these young players still have areas of growth on a physical, mental, and tactical level, however, knowing that they have the ability to improve makes me optimistic for the future.

“Notwithstanding, the sport needs the necessary investment and surely longer hours of training in order for us to get near the level of intensity shown by the top eight teams in Europe.

“Make no mistake, other teams will continue to work hard and improve, and we need to do the same. The good results achieved will be futile if we fail to build on them, with continuous hard work and some sacrifices too.”

On his part, Karl Izzo, the ASA president, was visibly delighted with the team’s performance and vowed to sit down with the clubs to push on changes in the format of the domestic competition to provide better preparation for the national teams.

“I am very happy after seeing this team beat a strong side like France,” Izzo said.

“This result shows that waterpolo in Malta has made a lot of progress in the last few years and that the ASA is taking the sport very seriously. Our goal is always that to see our national teams continue to climb the international rankings and this 11th-place finish was our best result in this age-group.

Time for change

“Now it’s time to start looking towards the future. These players managed this excellent result despite having only three days of preparation together, which is too little when you compete at the highest level.

“This is a sign that it’s time to continue our discussions with the clubs to change the format of the domestic competitions so that we provide our national teams with more time to prepare.”

Izzo thanked coach Milan Cirovic and his assistant Anthony Farrugia for their sterling work along with the other members of the technical staff as well as team manager Chris Sladden and Rita Azzopardi, who was the head of delegation in Turkey. Turning his sights to the future, Izzo said that he hopes this team will continue to grow ahead of their participation in the U-18 World Championship that the ASA are trying to host next year.

“I hope that this team will continue to grow and becomes even stronger ahead of their participation in the U-18 World Championship that we are trying to host next year,” Izzo said.

“This result is the cherry on the cake of what has been a great summer for our national teams.

“Our senior national team booked their place in the continental finals for a fifth time while the U-15 side secured an historic tenth placing in Europe, added to that the U-17 girls placed 12th while the boys managed 11th place.

“I would like to thank the clubs for the excellent level of coaching staff they have that helped us to have a group of players who were physically prepared for such high-level competition.

“I hope that our collaboration with the clubs will continue in the coming weeks so we can provide a better preparation for our national teams with the new pool in Cottonera playing a key role.

“But no doubt, the future looks really bright for Maltese waterpolo.”

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