Malta and the Faroe Islands clashed in the past two years in battles to avoid bottom place in the group but this time, the top spot in Group D1 of the UEFA Nations League will be at stake Malta hosts the Faroe Islands in the final match from the group at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:45.
Two years ago, in the UEFA Nations League, a 1-1 draw at Ta’ Qali saw Malta finish at the bottom with just three points from three draws, two points behind the Faroe Islands, and last year, in the EURO 2020 qualifiers, Malta needed to avoid a defeat in Torshavn to avoid the bottom spot but lost 1-0 and therefore ended sharing the bottom spot with the Faroe Islands.
So will this clash be another heartbreak for Malta?
The two teams met nine times in all, four of which at Ta’ Qali. In nine matches, Malta won twice, the Faroe Islands six and the other ended in a draw. At Ta’ Qali, Malta lost 1-2 in a World Cup qualifier in 1997, won 3-2 in a friendly match in 2013, drew 1-1 in the UEFA Nations League in 2018 and won 2-1 in March 2019 in the EURO qualifiers.
Lying three points behind the Faroe Islands before this final clash, Malta needs to win 1-0, 2-1 or by a margin of two goals or more. This would put Malta on level points with the Faroe Islands but Malta would secure top spot and promotion thanks to the greater number of goals scored away from home in the direct clashes after Malta lost 3-2 in Torshavn in September.
Any other result would keep the Faroe Islands on top to hand them promotion to League C.
After the forced break from international football due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malta returned to action in September – led for the first time by coach Devis Mangia. The team lost 3-2 in Torshavn after leading 2-1 with a few minutes to go. A few days later, Malta was held in a 1-1 draw with Latvia at Ta’ Qali. Following a win over Gibraltar in a friendly match last month, Malta earned another four points in the group thanks to a goalless draw in Andorra and a narrow win over Latvia in Riga. Last week, Malta defeated Liechtenstein in a friendly match and last Saturday, collected another three points in Group D1, coming from behind to beat Andorra 3-1.
The win over Andorra was the sixth consecutive positive result for the national team and a third successive win. A rare feat for Malta. The team is now just a win away from a historic achievement of winning a group for the first time and promotion to League C.
For this game, Mangia welcomes back Steve Borg who missed the last match as he was serving a one-match ban, just like the head-coach, who had to be replaced by Davide Mazzotta on the bench.
Borg should replace either Karl Micallef or Kurt Shaw in the back three along with Andrei Agius.
But otherwise, unless there are last-minute injuries, Henry Bonello should start in goal, Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli will be employed on the flanks, Teddy Teuma and Matthew Guillaumier in the middle with Jurgen Degabriele and Luke Gambin supporting Luke Montebello in attack.
When asked whether he was expecting to reach this stage, the Malta coach said “Before meeting the players the first time, I did not have this feeling but after meeting them, seeing their attitude, their belief in themselves, I started to think that they wanted to do something different, I was really positive about this project. “
“From a motivational point of view, this is the easiest game for me. Against Andorra, it was a bit more difficult to prepare but on Tuesday, the motivation will be more than 100%. We have to play our game, our football to be clever during the game and understand each moment. We will do our best and then we will see.”
“When the players go on the pitch, I always want the players to win the game but I think that everyone must be proud of what the players have done so far. It is something good for the football community and for all the country. Everyone should be proud of this, also the players. On Tuesday, we will definitely do our best to complete our work.”
“I would be happy for the players first of all and for everyone. Me and my staff are here to put our ideas and experience – our idea of football and professionality. This is what we are trying to do. The players do not have to be nervous. They have to be happy to play this game. We have to be happy to have this opportunity to play this game. When a player plays for his country, he has to be proud to have this opportunity. I am sure that on Tuesday, they will give everything on the pitch and then we will see because this is a football match and in football, anything can happen.”
“We have our ideas and we have to continue on our lines. It depends what means come to press. We will see what means, from what part of the pitch, with how many players. We work on that when it is good to do one thing and when it is better to find another kind of solution that could not necessarily be the long ball which I do not like that much. We are prepared for this possibility as well. It happened with Andorra away from home. We have solutions. On Tuesday, we need to recognise what is happening on the pitch and find the right solution. The game is made up from different moments … in some moments, it would be better to do one thing and other moments where it would be better to have some other kind of solution.”
Malta was unlucky to lose with two late goals in the game in Torshavn. Commenting on that game, the Malta coach said “We analyse all matches including the one in Faroe Islands. We know what we need to improve and what we did good. The ideas are clear. They are a good team but we will do our best.”
When asked whether promotion would hinder the project he had just started, Mangia said “Definitely no. If we do manage to win promotion, we would be happy to play in a higher league.”
So far, Devis Mangia had given ample space to younger players but he stressed on the importance of the more experienced players in the squad. “In a team, all the players are important. Both the ones who are not so young because they can give us experience and qualities, and the younger players. We put in a number of young players, not just to make one appearance and then it is over but to give them continuity in the team. These players are important for the present and the future but I think that for the present, the players with more experience will have the same importance.”
Regarding injuries, Mangia said “Apart from Jean Borg, there are a couple of situations which we need to assess during the final training session and then I would take the final decision.”
Meanwhile Andrei Agius added “This is a somewhat unusual position for us as we are approaching our last group game with a chance of achieving something, We have done a lot of positive things in event months and this has put us in this position for this last match.”
“I see it as a chance to reap the rewards of all the work we have put in over the last few months. We will be giving everything to try and win this game and bring great satisfaction to the Maltese public.”