Following a 1-3 defeat to Russia at the National Stadium on Wednesday, Malta plays its second game from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, facing Slovakia at the Štadión Antona Malatinského in Trnava on Saturday, kick-off at 20:45.
Slovakia are currently ranked 34th, five places ahead of Russia and therefore this will be a very difficult game for Malta but considering the performance early in the game against Russia and during the first half, the team could do well in Trnava.
Photos: Copyright Mark Zammit Cordina / Malta FA
Addressing the media on Friday, Devis Mangia said “The performance was OK but we have to think that we can do better and now we have to think about this game. Slovakia and Russia have different football ideas. Russia play more direct football, Slovakia like to have more possession. I like their style. They play good football in my opinion. “
With regards to the physical condition of the players, Mangia once again complained about the fact that football in Malta had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that although health remains a priority, with the right protocols, football can return. He said that right now, he was the only coach in Europe where the league has been stopped – a problem which other national team coaches do not have. He stressed that unless the Premier League is resumed, the players will end up with no training for four months.”
As the team was heading for the final training session on match day -1, Mangia said “As regards our plan, I will see today. I have to check how the players recovered. Maybe we can think also about changing something. For us, it is not usual to play this number of games, including the next one, in such a short time.”
In fact, considering the three matches in seven days, it would be no surprise should Mangia make a few changes in order to include fresh pairs of legs. Zach Muscat, Luke Gambin and Kyrian Nwoko could be set to start Saturday’s game.
From the thirty-man squad, Triston Caruana, Myles Beerman, Nevin Portelli and Jan Busuttil did not make the trip to Slovakia. There are no injured players and therefore the Malta coach could field his best formation.
The full squad at the disposal of Devis Mangia is made up of:
Henry Bonello (Valletta); Matthew Calleja Cremona (Hibernians); Jake Galea (Sliema Wanderers).
Andrei Agius (Hibernians); Steve Borg (Gżira United); Karl Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans); Zach Muscat (Casa Pia AC – Portugal); Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara); Kurt Shaw (Sliema Wanderers).
Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana); Juan Corbalan (Ħamrun Spartans); Matthew Guillaumier (Ħamrun Spartans); Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians); Joseph Mbong (Ħamrun Spartans); Nikolai Muscat (Gżira United); Steven Pisani (Gżira United); Teddy Teuma (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise – Belgium); Dexter Xuereb (Gżira United).
Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians); Shaun Dimech (Valletta); Luke Gambin (Newport County AFC – England); Jake Grech (Hibernians); Paul Mbong (Birkirkara); Luke Montebello (Birkirkara); Kyrian Nwoko (Valletta); Alexander Satariano (Sliema Wanderers).
Photos: Copyright Mark Zammit Cordina / Malta FA
Meanwhile during the same press conference, Joseph Mbong added “I believe this will be a tough game. We are going to go out and try to play our game. Basically that is our aim to play our football and enjoy playing the game.”
“We have been working with our coach for over a year. The first thing he did was show confidence in our abilities. When you have someone who believes in your abilities, you want to pay him back.”
Mbong scored his first national team goal against Russia. “I think it was well earned because we had a very good game For me to score, it was a very special thing since it was my first goal.”
This will be the ninth match between Malta and Slovakia with one match ending in a draw and Slovakia winning the other seven. The first match on Slovakian soil was a friendly match in Bratislava in August 1994 which ended in a 1-1 draw. Slovakia then registered a 6-0 win in September 1996 – a World Cup qualifier – in Bratislava. The two countries met in another friendly match in Bratislava in August 2006, Slovakia winning 3-0 and once again in Pod Dubnom – a narrow 1-0 win. The last encounter was in October 2017 when Slovakia defeated Malta 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier at the Štadión Antona Malatinskeho, Trnava – the same venue of Saturday’s match.
On Wednesday, Slovakia earned a point in a goalless draw with Cyprus away from home. In the UEFA Nations League, they finished bottom of Group B2, collecting four points in a draw with Israel away from home and a 1-0 win over Scotland at home. A group which also included neighbours Czech Republic.
Slovakia head coach Štefan Tarkovič, who had to deal with the absence of captain Marek Hamšík of IFK Göteborg and goalkeeper Marek Rodák of Fulham, lost another four players following Wednesday’s game as Germany-based Peter Pekarík of Hertha Berlin, Ondrej Duda of 1. FC Koln and László Bénes of FC Augsburg withdrew from the squad after their clubs availed themselves from the FIFA rule which states that clubs can refuse to release their players if they would have to quarantine on their return to club duty due to coronavirus regulations while Lukáš Haraslín of Sassuolo sustained an injury.
The players at his disposal are:
Goalkeepers: Martin Dúbravka (Newcastle United – ENG), Dominik Greif (ŠK Slovan Bratislava), Dušan Kuciak (Lechia Gdansk – POL)
Defenders: Ľubomír Šatka (Lech Poznaň – POL), Martin Koscelník (Slovan Liberec -CZE), Milan Škriniar (Inter Milan – ITA), Martin Valjent (RCD Mallorca – SPA), Tomáš Hubočan (Omonia Nicosia – CYP), Lukáš Pauschek (ŠK Slovan Bratislava ), Dávid Hancko (Sparta Prague – CZE)
Midfielders: Ján Greguš (Minnesota United – USA), Albert Rusnák Jr. (Real Salt Lake -USA), Stanislav Lobotka (SSC Napoli – ITA), Patrik Hrošovský (KRC Genk – BEL), Juraj Kucka (Parma Calcio – ITA), Róbert Mak (Ferencváros Budapest – HUN), Vladimír Weiss (Slovan Bratislava), Jakub Hromada (Slavia Praha), Tomáš Suslov (FC Groningen – SWE), Matúš Bero (Vitesse Arnhem – NED)
Forward: Michal Ďuriš (Omonia Nicosia – CYP), Róbert Boženík (Feyenoord Rotterdam – NED), Dávid Strelec (ŠK Slovan Bratislava)
The match will be controlled by Austrian officials, namely referee Harald Lechner, assistant referees Andreas Heidenreich and Markus Gutschi and fourth official Christian-Petru Ciochirca.