Following the 0-3 defeat to Northern Ireland at the Wörthersee Stadion in Klagenfurt, Austria, on Sunday, the Malta national team will be in action once again on Friday, facing Kosovo at the same venue, kick-off at 18:00.
A defensive blunder after less than two minutes paved the way for the Irish, as although Henry Bonello neutralised a penalty mid-way through the first half, two quick-fire goals on the restart handed Ian Baraclough’s side a comfortable win.
The physical condition of the players, who, with the exception of Teddy Teuma, were coming from two months of inactivity due to the COVID-19 measures, definitely left its mark on the performance and the result in Klagenfurt.
Photos: Copyright www.stephengatt.com/Malta FA
The game against Northern Ireland was due to be the first of three friendly matches in nine days with the other two being Friday’s game against Kosovo and another one on Monday 7 against Kazakhstan but this match was cancelled as the team from the former Soviet republic was unable to travel to Austria. Another change in plans for the Malta coach who had earlier said that he intended to give all the players at his disposal a chance to play at least a part in a game.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Malta national coach Devis Mangia said, “It is clear that the situation of the match with Kazakhstan created a problem for us. We had planned something but now, we cannot cancel all our plans. Without that game, I will not have the chance to see some players (in a match). I am watching them in training. I definitely do not want to change six, seven players from the last game because I think I would create more problems to the team. “
“Unfortunately from a physical point of view, the problems are still the same. It is true that we had four days to recover after the first game but the problem is the starting point of our physical condition.”
“Since January 2020, first, we stopped three months because of COVID. We started training in July, after four months, and we had a problem in September. This year, we stopped for two months, then we had this training camp and I do not know how the situation will be in September. We lost practically seven/eight months in less than two years. This is really a big problem. We cannot forget this. When we are OK from a physical point of view, and may be also better than the condition we were in October, November and also in March, I believe we can do good things but we need a good physical condition. It is important to play against this type of teams. In the last game, in the first half, we did some good things but we missed some good opportunities because of this: being late, not being the first on the ball – this is all due to the physical aspect,” said Mangia.
With regards to Malta’s opponent on Friday, the Malta coach said “They play a different style of football than Northern Ireland. We have to work as a team and achieve the best from this game. Despite all the difficulties, we have the skills to create some problems for them. My concern at this point is only the physical aspect. After the game against Northern Ireland, we made our evaluation, we spoke with the players and we analysed the game. The physical aspect was the main issue but we also committed some mistakes. I do not usually focus too much on the technical mistakes because these are things that can happen. “
Malta met Kosovo twice in 2018 in two matches from the UEFA Nations League D Group 3, losing 3-1 in Pristina and 0-5 at Ta’ Qali. Kosovo won the group and hence promotion to League C
In 2019, they had a good showing in Group A of the EURO 2020 qualifiers, finishing third on eleven points, behind England and the Czech Republic and ahead of Bulgaria and Montenegro. Last year, they finished third in the UEFA Nations League C Group 3 thanks to a home win over Moldova and draws with Greece and Moldova away from home. In the European Qualifiers last March, they lost 0-3 to Sweden in Pristina and 3-1 to Spain in Seville. However they defeated Lithuania 4-0 and San Marino 4-1 in two friendly matches.
When asked whether the performance or the result were his main objective, Devis Mangia said “The performance because I think the result is the consequence of the performance. “
“I want to give some players the possibility to show the skills, for the present and for the future; to see other players from the start. Maybe some players who did not get much chance from the start. Others played, either in the last period or in the Nations League. There are others who played less and therefore, tomorrow two or three of them will get the chance, either from the beginning or during the game.”
One player who is expected to retain his place in the starting line-up is Andrei Agius who would be making his 100th appearance for the national team.
Mangia said that although this could be an important milestone for the Hibernians defender, he knows him well enough that “he has the character to be focussed on a good performance” rather than on this achievement.
Agius said that reaching such a milestone in his career had been one of his objectives since making his debut with the national team.
“I know how hard I worked hard to achieve this. Thanks to the faith shown by coaches throughout the years. I would like to thank them all. However, tomorrow is not my game. This is the game against Kosovo in preparation for the forthcoming qualifiers.”
Referring to the problems the team is facing with regards to match fitness, Agius said “The physical aspect is not an excuse. You achieve this through match practice. Our biggest issue is the rhythm and the intensity of the game. No training session would give you this.”
When asked what was the biggest change throughout the years he had been playing for the national team, the Hibernians defender said “The mentality of the coach and his staff under the presidency of Bjorn Vassallo. They brought something which I used to complain about.”
“We have to play our game. Try to impose our game. For example in the last game, with the slightest technical and tactical mistake we commit, we are much more exposed and we concede goals. But this is part of the ‘give and take’ situations. The next step is to avoid committing tactical mistakes. Remaining fully focussed while on the attack,” said Agius.
Meanwhile Devis Mangia revealed that Enrico Pepe and Steve Pisani are both ruled out of the game as they are still struggling to regain full fitness.
“Pepe is out for sure. The idea was to recover him for the last game. On the other hand, Steve Pisani is still not in a good condition after the operation. The idea was for him to play some part of the last game. Two or three more days would have been useful for us to give them more training sessions,” said Mangia.