For Malta it is all about development
The road to the Men’s EHF EURO 2026 in Denmark, Norway and Sweden starts this weekend with the first qualification phase in Baku, Azerbaijan. Only the winners will proceed to the next round from the four-nation tournament and besides the hosts, Great Britain and Cyprus, the team from Malta is part of the event.
- participated in the EHF EURO 2014 and 2022 qualifications, but have never won a match in those tournaments
- previously faced Great Britain and hosts Azerbaijan in the EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers
- the best result in the IHF trophy tournaments was eighth in 2015
- Brazilian Diogo Costa, who has the EHF Master Coach diploma, was appointed technical director and national team coach in October 2022. Costa has worked with famous Spanish coach Jordi Rivera for several Brazilian national teams before
- Malta are currently only relying on players from the domestic league, as the new team is in the process of restructuring
Most important question: How competitive will Malta be?
The Maltese Handball Association was founded in 1995 – and from 1999 until 2012, the Malta men’s team had always been part of the IHF Trophy/Challenge Trophy. As part of their 10-year development strategy, Malta built up a new team. Many players had their international debut at the U20 IHF Trophy in Kosovo in October 2022, when the outcome was a win against Andorra and defeats against Great Britain, Bulgaria and the hosts Kosovo – but the start was done, now it is time to take the next step at the EHF EURO 2026 Qualifiers in Azerbaijan.
How do they rate themselves
“We have plenty of young players whose handball development was affected by the pandemic directly, and this level of international experience for us is crucial,” says head coach Diogo Costa. In their opener on Friday, Malta will face the hosts, followed by matches against Cyprus and Great Britain.
“We are very excited to reach this level and try to come back to the international scene after the pandemic years. The U20 IHF Trophy in Kosovo was an important mark and now the EHF EURO Qualifiers will be the moment for the senior national team”, says Costa, who has nominated 16 players, all from domestic clubs, for the tournament in Baku.
But it is not only about results, it is more about development, as Diogo Costa underlines: “We have a large strategic 10-year plan, and we want to try to enhance our handball level in all the possible aspects. Our experience in Azerbaijan is about getting one more step in this strategic plan of Maltese handball development.”
Under the spotlight: Neil Gruppetta
Neil Gruppetta is the biggest talent in Malta. Being 20 years old, the centre back was part of the U20 team which competed at the IHF Trophy 2022 in Kosovo - and with 20 goals was Malta’s top scorer. He was the only U21 player named for the All-star Team of the Maltese Handball league in 2022 and was awarded MVP of the U21 league, playing for La Salle Karettun on club level. Currently, Gruppetta lives and plays in Sweden. As a part of the cooperation of Josef Bredell Training Camp and Skogås Handball Club, he has the opportunity to train with Skogås as well as some other clubs based in the Stockholm area.
What the numbers say
Never before have Malta taken a victory against one of their three opponents in any competitive match: two defeats against Cyprus, four against Great Britain and five against Azerbaijan are the Maltese tally, including those in the EHF EURO 2022 qualification against Azerbaijan and Cyprus.
Did you know?
Malta’s first appearance in the EHF EURO qualifications started on the road to the 2014 tournament in Denmark, when they faced much stronger opponents in the first stage and were defeated by Turkey, Estonia and Latvia. In January 2019, Malta again played the first stage of the EHF EURO 2022 qualification – and after a narrow defeat against Azerbaijan, they lost their matches against Cyprus and Georgia.
All matches from the qualification phase 1 tournament will be shown on EHFTV and CBC Sport in Azerbaijan
Photos © Kosovo Handball Federation