National coach Devis Mangia is looking forward to seeing the fans back for the national team matches and stressed on the responsibility of the players and technical staff taking the vaccine in the fight against COVID. The Malta coach was addressing the media on Monday as the national squad gathered for its first training sessions ahead of this triple header which will see Malta host Cyprus on Wednesday and then face Slovenia and Russia in two matches away from home.
For Devis Mangia, who took over as Malta coach in December 2019, the match against Cyprus will be the first home match where spectators will be allowed to attend.
“For the first time, after eighteen months, I will see the supporters on the stands. We try to do our job for the fans and now they are allowed to attend, although not in a big number, it is something important for us. “
“This international window is another very important commitment for us. We started in 2020 and we did some good things. Now this is a new football season and we have to confirm these good things and have the right mentality to continue to improve.”
Many would view the match against Cyprus as the match which provides the best chance of obtaining a positive result at home and would expect the national coach to put all his focus on such a game. However Mangia disagrees.
“We are working to change this mentality. This is not the most important game for the reason that someone could think that this team is similar or slightly better than us, on paper. Our mentality has to be different. This is the most important game because it is our next game. After this, the game against Slovenia will be the most important game and then the Russia. The next game is always the most important game.”
“We know Cyprus and we know they are a very good team. They showed this in the first international window in March with the results they obtained. “
In fact, after holding Slovakia in a goalless draw, Cyprus lost 1-0 to Croatia but then defeated Slovenia 1-0.
The Premier League resumed ten days ago after the football season was interrupted early in March and therefore one aspect which worries many is the physical condition of the players.
“A lot of things have happened. We cannot think of a football player as a switch on and switch off. You stop for four months and then restart as if nothing happened. Some problems are connected to the fact that activity stopped for most players for four months, for some even more. That is something we have to consider. “
“With regards to the physical condition, I want to check myself. We watched some games from the stand. We have some data that shows us that in March, we suffered a lot in the first game. We have to consider this when we take our decisions ahead of the game.”
For this international window, Devis Mangia had to deal with the absence of a number of players for one reason or another. Goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona, Matthew Guillaumier, Bjorn Kristensen and Luke Gambin, among others were not available for selection.
“I prefer to speak about the players who are here and not the ones who are not. I am disappointed because most of these players are injured and therefore I was not in a position to decide whether I could call them or not. Now we have to work with the players who are here and if they are here, they deserve to have the chance to show their their abilities and skills.”
The provisional squad includes four goalkeepers as apart from Henry Bonello and Jake Galea, Cain Formosa of San Gwann and Matthew Grech of Pembroke Athleta were named in the provisional squad.
“The situation is clear. We selected four because of Henry Bonello as he has one yellow card. Henry Bonello is the first goalkeeper and Jake Galea is the second goalkeeper. We have a problem with regards to Matthew Calleja Cremona who is injured and therefore we decided to start with four and then we will take our decision on who will be the third one.”
Jokingly, Mangia said that he will speak with Henry Bonello to avoid getting a yellow card “but everything can happen and you have to be ready. About the decision to choose these two goalkeepers, we started to do changes to rejuvenate our team. In the Premier League, Henry Bonello is one of the youngest and most of the other goalkeepers are foreigners. I hope that some clubs opt in future to give confidence to some young Maltese goalkeepers. We hope to see more Maltese goalkeepers in the Premier League. I have nothing against older goalkeepers but to build something, you need to start from youngsters.”
Referring to goalkeepers Timothy Aquilina and Andreas Vella, the Malta coach said that together with the goalkeepers coaches and after analysing past performances, even when they were part of the Under-21 national team, he made the decision to opt for other goalkeepers.
“We took this decision. Then after the game, we could change our opinion and like we do with players, maybe replace one with another.”
As regards Kyrian Nwoko who was left out of the squad, the Malta coach said that there were to aspects to consider.
“He did not play since March and since moving to Ireland, he played three minutes in the first game, second and third game zero and then thirty minutes in the last game. Then there is another thing to consider … we have a problem in the world due to COVID and in our position, we also have responsibilities. As a coach, I need to follow who is an expert in this area with regards to COVID and vaccines. I believe in what doctors and scientists say. “
“He has a problem since he did not take the vaccine. There are also rules in Malta with regards to travel without the vaccine. We are not special … actually we are special – we have to show everyone how important the vaccine is. ”
“There is therefore this aspect to consider. I have nothing against anyone … everyone is free to do what he wants but I prefer listening to what doctors and scientists say. I am not alone. I am part of a team and I need to respect all the members of the squad, including the staff, and therefore I follow what the doctors say.”
With regards to Luke Gambin, who moved to Hamrun Spartans earlier this summer, Devis Mangia said “Luke Gambin and his agent made their evaluations and they thought that it was the best solution in this moment. I think that if we have players who have the possibility to perform in another league is a plus for us. However, this season, the league should be more competitive, maybe due to the fact that there are twelve teams.”
Mangia explained that Gambin had to stay fourteen days in quarantine on his return from England and then after a few training sessions with Hamrun, ended up in quarantine once again.
“I follow what doctors say and would not risk having non-vaccinated players in the squad. I believe that the vaccine could be the only solution to solve this issue.”
With regards to players of Maltese descent who could turn out for the national team, Devis Mangia said “I know association is working on this but due to bureaucracy, the process is a bit slow. I also have to be sure that such players really want to play for this country and not just come here for the passport. If someone comes with the attitude, like for example, of Teddy Teuma, I would want him for sure, hundred per cent. Otherwise we not are interested. I know that the administration is working hard on this but this thing takes time. “
Tickets for Malta vs Cyprus, which will be played at the National Stadium on Wednesday 1st September 2021 at 20.45hrs, are currently on sale.
Match tickets will only be available online from https://tickets.mfa.com.mt
Ticket holders need to be in possession of a valid Covid-19 vaccination certificate, which needs to be uploaded online in advance.
Ticket prices cost €20 for West A & C Sectors; €15 for Millennium F and €10 for South Stand for adults. Children Under 12 years, Seniors & Holders of Disability Card pay €10 for West A & C Sectors; €8 for Millennium F and €5 for South Stand.
Tickets for the Millennium Stand Sector D, which were being sold by the South End Core, are sold out.
Henry Bonello (Ħamrun Spartans); Cain Formosa (San Ġwann); Jake Galea (No Club); Matthew Grech (Pembroke Athleta)
Andrei Agius (Hibernians); Steve Borg (Gżira United); Karl Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans); Zach Muscat (Casa Pia); Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara); Kurt Shaw (Sliema Wanderers)
Cain Attard (Birkirkara); Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana); Triston Caruana (Valletta); Juan Carlos Corbolan (Ħamrun Spartans); Joseph Essien Mbong (Ħamrun Spartans); Nicolai Muscat (Gżira United); Brandon Diego Paiber (Floriana); Steven Pisani (Gżira United); Nevin Portelli (Gżira United); Teddy Teuma (R.U. Saint Gilloise); Dunstan Vella (Hibernians); Dexter Xuereb (Gżira United); Yannick Yankam (Birkirkara)
Jan Busuttil (Floriana); Shaun Dimech (Valletta); Omar Elouni (Sliema Wanderers); Jake Grech (Hibernians); Paul Mbong (Birkirkara); Luke Montebello (Birkirkara); Alexander Satariano (Frosinone Calcio)