FEATURE: EHF EURO 2022 Qualification tournament will be the biggest event in Maltese handball history
Malta ready to rise to the occasion
Malta are set to compete in the EHF EURO Qualifiers for just the second time and the tournament on 11-13 January will be the first time they have hosted qualification matches.
Georgia, Azerbaijan and Cyprus head to the Mediterranean nation for the EHF EURO 2022 Qualification Phase 1 tournament and this weekend is about more than the matches for the hosts.
“We want to make this a memorable event, to motivate the Maltese handball community and show that we can not only compete in such events but also organise them.
“We know that the opponents will be difficult, but we are working on giving our best and making it a memorable performance,” says Malta coach Joseph Tanti.
“It is the most prestigious handball event we have hosted in Malta. The committee is putting a lot of work into it and it shows,” adds experienced goalkeeper Clinton Mifsud, who has never experienced this level of local interest.
“There is a lot of hype here, which is pretty unusual. Everyone is trying to support us and sometimes people are even coming to watch our training.”
Everything depends on us
With the majority of the squad based locally, Malta have put in the extra hours to prepare for their biggest moment in international handball.
“We have been preparing for this for the last two months. The fact that we are small makes it very comfortable to meet and train and we have put a lot of effort into this.
“We have a few players coming through from under-20 level, guys in their early 20s and then the experienced group, so it should blend well together,” explains Mifsud.
This is the first time Malta have competed at this level since 2012 when they lost to Estonia, Latvia and hosts Turkey. The team’s performances have been a bit of a rollercoaster since then.
“We did not know exactly what we were going to face in 2012 and the difference in level was quite big.
“Then we reached a peak in 2015, beating China in the Emerging Nations and getting into the quarter-finals. The performances in 2017 were really bad, but I think the team learned a lot about the need to be humble and always work hard,” says coach Tanti, who is in no doubt about the challenge which awaits his men this weekend.
“I will not say Azerbaijan are in reach, because everything depends on us, but I think it will be a close game, so we are banking on that game, with a full hall with supporters.
“We faced Georgia in the Emerging Nations and we did quite well until we lost control in attack and conceded too many easy goals.
“I cannot change their technical level, as I do not have as much time with them as the clubs, so I have been focusing on them controlling their emotions, controlling our play in attack and limiting technical mistakes.”
Cherish the moment
Mifsud believes the home support and his teammates’ passion will give them something extra on this unique occasion.
“We are going to try to do the basic things well, but we are famous for having heart and that will be our strength
“I hope these will be the best games of my life. I probably will not have another opportunity to play at this level in front of my son and my family, so I am really looking forward to it.
“We have to cherish the moment and give our best.”
TEXT: Chris O'Reilly / jh
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