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Izzo hails team’s character but calls for more focus

Malta face Serbia after beating Israel in this year's European Championships. Photo: LEN

Aquatic Sports Association of Malta (ASA) president Karl Izzo hailed the character shown by the Malta waterpolo national team during their stunning 13-11 win over Israel at the European Championship on Sunday.

Milan Cirovic’s boys fought back from three goals down to secure their first win at the 2024 European Championship and their maiden success in the group stage of a continental finals.

Izzo said that the team’s triumph against Israel was a real show of character from the players who had started the match with the wrong approach.

“This was a match which really showed the strong character of this team,” Izzo told the Times of Malta.

“The way how the win matured was very beautiful, but I have to be sincere when saying that the team’s performance was certainly not what we expected, particularly at the start of the match.

“I was in the dressing room to hear Milan Cirovic’s team talk and the players’ approach early on was the opposite of what our coach had asked of the players. The players showed great character and resilience.
“I believe that when Mark Castillo was shown the red card for brutality it became the moment the team reacted and started to play to the level they are capable of.

“There were times during the match when we conceded goals in the final seconds of the first and second sessions that were a bit of psychological blows for the team but the players kept fighting.

“Then in the final session, coach Milan Cirovic managed to change the mentality of the team and here our superior physical fitness came to the fore and we secured the win against all odds.”

Serbia clash

Sunday’s win over Israel was a major psychological boost for Cirovic’s players as the team have now put themselves in a strong position to try and emulate or even improve the best-ever result attained two years ago when Malta placed 14th in Europe.

In fact, Malta are set to finish third in the group and set up a play-off with Slovenia, who in all probability finish bottom of Group D, with the winner facing Slovakia in the play-off for 13th place.

“Winning the way we did against Israel is a major psychological group for this young group of players,” Izzo said.

“This team holds huge potential and this result has surely further united this group of players. No one can dispute the talent of these players and the challenges these matches pose to our players will help them to mature as players.

“Now, hopefully, this team will kick on and start to show its true potential right from the start of matches. The matches against Slovenia and Slovakia are well within our reach but we have to be on our game right from the outset if we are to get the result we want.”

Next up for Malta, is a clash against title favourites Serbia and Izzo said that the team should try and take the most of playing such a formidable outfit.

“Serbia are a world-class team who placed among the top eight the last time around,” Izzo said.

“Our goal has to be to try and play our game and take the best out of the experience of facing one of the best teams in the world.

“This match will help us to prepare for a very important match against Slovenia on Thursday that we need to win at all costs.”

In the build-up to this tournament, there was a bit of scepticism about some decisions taken by Cirovic, particularly his decision to leave out some experienced players and opt to take one of the youngest teams for a European Championship.

Izzo had words of praise for the Montenegrin coach, who he believes is the perfect man to lead the national team to higher objectives in the future.

“I am really happy with the decision I made to choose Milan Cirovic as the Malta waterpolo coach,” Izzo said.

“The work he has carried out since taking over early last year has been phenomenal and there is no doubt that our national team has improved considerably in the past few months. He has managed to unite a very young group of players who will surely represent the future of our national team.

“Obviously, had we brought experienced players in our contingent for this tournament we might have been stronger, but our intention was to build a team for the future.

“It’s a long process but no doubt these results have surely shown that we are on the right track.”

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