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Waterpolo national team is lacking a leader, says ASA president Karl Izzo

Malta goalkeeper Jake Tanti effects a save against the Netherlands. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

If Malta’s waterpolo national team wants to succeed and attain its goals at the European Championships this month, we need players to stand up, be counted, and lead the team in the water.

That was the view of ASA president Karl Izzo at the end of the SportMalta Christmas International Tournament, who claimed that the national team does not have a player with the necessary influence in the water needed in the championships.

The 2023 European Championships are set to be held in Croatia between January 4 and 16.

Malta were drawn into a tough group that features powerhouse Serbia, Israel and Germany.

This time, it will be a new challenge for the new ASA president as he is trying to herald a new era for the national team.

Apart from Matthew Zammit and Jerome Gabarretta, both of whom have retired from national team duties, the team were also without the talismanic Steve Camilleri as well as Sliema duo Jamie Gambin and Benji Cachia who are unavailable for selection.

“Gambin and Cachia would have made the cut, in my opinion. However, Gambin is nursing an injury and Cachia is unavailable due to study commitments.”

There was nothing the Maltese could do against Italy and the result was a foregone conclusion from the very outset in the tournament’s first match.

But commitment, tactical cohesion and quick forward thrusts were the hallmarks of Malta’s solid performance against France.

However, a gradual mental and physical decline in the third and final match against the Netherlands by our boys undid all their good work.

“We played against high-ranked teams. That was the aim to gauge how far we can go in the upcoming European Championships,” Izzo added.

“However, the matches against Italy and the Netherlands were very disappointing to say the least. Against the Italians, the players went in the water already defeated. Today (against the Netherlands), we were not up to it from the outset,” he insisted.

Yet, Cirovic’s plan to introduce more youngsters in the national team’s top order has backfired on Saturday. 

The Montenegrin coach who introduced Jake Cachia, Alec Fenech and Jeremy Abela in lieu of Ben Plumpton, Jayden Cutajar and Mark Castillo and gave second-string players a feel of the water, just watched his side with a resigned expression against the Netherlands.

Cirovic has his work cut out to try and match the achievements of Izzo who during his long-term tenure in charge of the national team has masterminded the team to a consistent run of positive results on the international scene.

“The coach will whittle down the list of players to 15. Then, we need to regroup before the Germany match. If we can rekindle the spirit shown against France in the matches with Germany and Israel, then will surely get the result we are working for,” he explained.

“My only concern at the moment is that the national team lacks a leader in the water. We lost a lot of seasoned players, and I cannot identify a leader who has the necessary influence on the team to guide his team-mates when things are not going well,” he said.

“The team has an average age of 20 and this is a new era for the national team. But I want to reiterate that we are missing a leader who needs to lead the team in bad patches,” he said.

“True, we are at the start of a four-year plan but still in Croatia, we need to get results. We have to play as a unit, unfortunately against Italy and the Netherlands, we were not able to play as a team.”

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