Malta coach Devis Mangia expects a good performance and further improvement as the boys in red host Cyprus at the National Stadium on Wednesday, kick-off at 20:45, in the first match from a triple-header which includes two clashes away from home against Slovenia and Russia.
This will be the fourth match for Malta from Group H. Three weeks after the football season came to an abrupt halt in March due to COVID restrictions, Malta opened its commitments with a 1-3 defeat to Russia and following an impressive 2-2 draw with Slovakia in Trnava, Malta lost 3-0 to Croatia. In June, with the players inactive for over ten weeks, Malta played two friendly matches, losing 0-3 to Northern Ireland and 1-2 to Kosovo.
Most of the players were active with their respective clubs in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa Conference League qualifiers in July but the remaining players all played their first matches from the BOV Premier League earlier this month.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/Malta FA
Therefore, it remains to be seen whether the players’ physical condition is at optimum level.
The players gathered nine days ago, giving the technical staff a better chance to prepare ahead of this triple-header. However, it will be the game itself which will show their physical condition, especially considering that this will be the first game.
“It is important that we are OK tomorrow. About the physical condition, it is a question we can only answer after the game because we know the problems that we faced since March. We have the possibility of five substitutions during the game and then we will manage the team during the three matches,” said coach Devis Mangia
To make matters worse for the Malta coach, a number of players are ruled out for one reason or another. Midfielders Matthew Guillaumier, Bjorn Kristensen and Luke Gambin together with goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona are all unavailable while Kyrian Nwoko, who was included as a substitute in the previous three qualifiers, was left out of the squad.
Last week, Mangia admitted that he would have preferred having all players to choose from but stressed that the players who are part of the squad deserve to be there and have the chance to show their abilities and skills.
“Of course, I am disappointed for the injuries because I prefer to have all the players in good condition, but we have all the solutions here to play the right game tomorrow.”
“We are more focussed on our performance – what we have to do on the pitch but they are a very good team. In March, in the first three games, they got very good results. They are a very compact team with both strong and fast players. They have experience at international level with a lot of players who play in the most important clubs in Cyprus which took part in the (group stages of) European club competitions in recent years. They are a good team but we have to be focussed on what we have to do on the pitch.”
In the past twelve months, Cyprus lost nine of the twelve matches played between the UEFA Nations League, the European Qualifiers and friendly matches but already collected four points from this group thanks to a goalless draw with Slovakia and a narrow win over Slovenia, losing narrowly to Croatia in the other match. They are currently ranked 99th in the FIFA Ranking, well ahead of Malta’s 177th place.
“I expect a good performance and further improvement. We have been working together for over one year. The players know our football idea. They know what we want to achieve, what are our targets during the game. It is important that we are focussed and that we have the personality to play our football and show this on the pitch.”
Malta and Cyprus met six times, this being the third competitive match following the two EURO 2004 qualifiers where Cyprus won 2-1 at the GSP in Nicosia in 2002 and at Ta’ Qali in 2003.
In the other three friendly matches, Malta won 1-0 in Limassol in October 1988, drew 1-1 at Ta’ Qali one month later and 0-0 in Larnaca in October 1989, losing 0-3 in 1992 in Limassol.
The game Malta vs Cyprus marks the return of supporters for a game of the national team for the first time since November 2019.
“I am happy that this is the first game with supporters … at least for me since the start of my role here. It is a very important game because, as I already said, this is the first one. We are focussed on this. We think we prepared this game well and then we see tomorrow.”
Birkirkara forward Luke Montebello added that this match was an important one, just like the other two against Slovenia and Russia. He said the team was well prepared and hoping to obtain a positive result.
As regards the return of spectators, Montebello added that after a long period of time, fans must be excited and the players are looking forward for their backing throughout the ninety minutes.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/Malta FA
Meanwhile Cyprus coach Nikos Kostenoglou has just four players out of his twenty-seven man squad who are based abroad – Nicholas Ioannou of Como, Grigoris Kastanos of Salernitana – on loan from Juventus, Alex Gocic of Hibernian and Pieros Sotiriou of Ludogorets. No less than thirteen of the players come from Anorthosis Famagusta and Omonia Nicosia who both made it to the group stage of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Speaking on Tuesday, Kostenoglou said that the team will try to continue from where they had left in March and will be aiming for maximum points from the game. He said that although it would be a difficult match, he was optimistic considering the players’ attitude.
After the game against Malta, Cyprus host Russia on Saturday before another away match against Slovakia on Thursday.
The players selected by Kostenoglou are:
Goalkeepers Neophytos Michael (APOEL), Dimitris Dimitriou (Apollon), Costantinos Panagi (Omonia);
Defenders Kostantinos Soteriou (AEL Limassol), Marios Antoniades (Anorthosis), Andreas Karo (APOEL), Thomas Ioannou (Ethnikos Achna), Paris Psaltis (Omonia), Nikolas Panagiotou (Omonia), Nicholas Ioannou (Como);
Midfielders Kostakis Artymatas (Anorthosis), Andreas Avraam (Anorthosis), Micahlis Ioannou (Anorthosis), Ioannis Pittas (Apollon), Chambos Kyriakou (Apollon), Fanos Katelaris (Apollon), Loizos Loizou (Omonia), Fotis Papoulis (Omonia), Marinos Tzionis (Omonia), Grigoris Kastanos (Salernitana), Aleandros Gogic (Hibernian);
Forwards Demetris Christofi (Anorthosis), Onisforos Roushias (Anorthosis), Dimitris Theodorou (APOEL), Marios Elia (Ethnikos Achna), Panayiotis Zachariou (Omonia), Pieros Sotiriou (Ludogorets).
On the other hand, the players at the disposal of Devis Mangia are:
goalkeepers Henry Bonello (Ħamrun Spartans); Cain Formosa (San Ġwann); Jake Galea (No Club); Matthew Grech (Pembroke Athleta);
defenders Andrei Agius (Hibernians); Steve Borg (Gżira United); Karl Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans); Zach Muscat (Casa Pia); Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara); Kurt Shaw (Sliema Wanderers);
midfielders 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);
forwards Jan Busuttil (Floriana); Shaun Dimech (Valletta); Omar Elouni (Sliema Wanderers); Jake Grech (Hibernians); Paul Mbong (Birkirkara); Luke Montebello (Birkirkara); Alexander Satariano (Frosinone Calcio)
Malta vs Cyprus will be controlled by Italian officials, namely referee Fabio Maresca assisted by Giorgio Peretti and Daniele Bindoni and fourth official Luca Pairetto with Massimiliano Irrati as Video Assistant Referee and Alberto Tegoni as the Assistant Video Assistant Referee.
In fact as from Wednesday, video assistant referee (VAR) system will be used, with the agreement of FIFA, in all remaining European Qualifier matches for the FIFA World Cup 2022, following a decision taken by the UEFA Executive Committee in July 2021.