The lack of match-fitness of the Maltese players is what worries most Malta national team Head Coach Devis Mangia ahead of the first two matches from the UEFA Nations League Group D1 against the Faroe Islands in Torshavn on Thursday and against Latvia at Ta’ Qali on Sunday.
Addressing an online press-conference on Monday, Mangia said “It is clear that for us this is a particular moment. The Faroe Islands and Latvia are playing their normal league championship. In the Faroe Islands, teams played around 17 games and in Latvia, 17 as well. It is clear that in Malta we have a different situation. We stopped in March and since then we did not have any official games. Only players of Hibs, Valletta and Floriana played one official game. The others had only training sessions and some members of our team were not training for a couple of weeks due to quarantine. We know this and we have to consider this in the preparation for the games as we still need to do our best without any excuses.”
Malta was in fact due to play friendly matches against Gibraltar and Azerbaijan in March and other friendly matches in June, including one against Portugal. Therefore Thursday’s clash with the Faroe Islands will mark Devis Mangia’s debut.
At club level, most teams started pre-season training in July but apart from the UEFA club competition matches for Floriana, Hibernians and Valletta, national team players from other clubs were at most involved only in a couple of friendly matches.
“All coaches want to have as much time as possible to prepare but like I said to the players, we cannot find alibis but only find the opportunities. We know how our situation at the moment is. Maybe we know the situation of the Faroe Islands and Latvia and so we have to try to find the right solutions for these two games.”
Devis Mangia had most of the players at his disposal for a training camp in July.
“The training camp in July gave my staff the opportunity to get to know the players a bit better from a personal point of view because before we had only seen them in games.”
The squad features a number of new faces, mainly players who were promoted from the Under-21 side like Jean Borg, Matthew Guillaumier, Myles Beerman, Shaun Dimech and Paul Mbong.
With regards to the possibilities players will be getting with the senior side, the former Italy Under-21 coach said “If they are here, they are part of the senior squad, and not of the Under-21 squad. I made my evaluations and they have the qualities to be here. They need to show they deserve to be part of this squad. They are here because they have the possibility to play a part in these games. Obviously it would also depend on how things go, how the games turn out and also from what they will show in training ahead of these games.”
“I do not care about the age. It is clear that if this project starts now, it is normal that if you want to build something with the young players and give them the possibility to increase their international experience. Of course, we may see some mistakes but we have to support the players to help them do their best because if they are here, they deserve to be here.”
Also called up for the July training camp was Birkirkara defender Enrico Pepe who, since then, obtained Maltese citizenship by sporting merit.
“We all know Enrico Pepe. We thought that this player can help us in the national team. We knew about this new rule regarding citizenship on sporting merit who can give a good contribution to the national team,” said Mangia.
With regards to the other new face in the squad, French-born Teddy Teuma, the Malta coach said “Teddy Teuma is a central midfielder. When I came here, the MFA Technical Centre had already been following several players of Maltese descent. In our opinion, he is a player who can give a good contribution to the team.”
“At the Technical Centre, we are following a lot of players who have Maltese citizenship. There also has to be a decision of the top management of the association and not only a technical one. If there are players who have Maltese citizenship that can be part of our project, the doors are open. The doors are open for these players and also for those who play in the domestic league without distinction.”
“Everybody has to remember that the doors are open for all and one has to show that he deserves to be here and is proud to play for our national team.”
Facing the Faroe Islands in Torshavn brings back memories of the disappointing defeat last October. When asked about Malta’s chances, Devis Mangia said “It is difficult to say because Malta changed the coach and I selected this squad and the Faroe Islands also changed a number of players from their last game against Malta and changed their coach as well. So there are definitely some question marks. There are some situations where both teams can only discover after the match kicks-off. We need to be ready to adapt and maybe change something during the game if something turns out to be different to what we were expecting.”
Mangia refused to refer to the 1-0 defeat in Torshavn last year. “It’s not my style to speak about the past. I prefer to speak about what we are doing now. We have started a new page with full respect on what happened before.“
“There are some situations which will be new for us. The fact that this will be our first game, it is normal that there are some question marks because we did not play any friendly matches. We trained in a good way, with a good attitude but a match is completely different than training.”
When asked about Malta’s chances in Torshavn, “We will see on the pitch if we have the skills and ability to obtain a good result. What I always say and would like to repeat is that on the pitch, the players need to have good attitude. In a match, there are some situations which you cannot manage but the attitude depends only on us.”
Mangia will trim the squad from twenty five to twenty three players before the departure to the Faroe Islands on Tuesday.
The players in the squad are all fit although Mangia admitted that some players are still not hundred percent from a physical point of view due to the lack of match-fitness.
Meanwhile the national coach was earlier forced to make one change to the squad as goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona was unable to travel with the squad and was replaced by Andreas Galea of Santa Lucia.