Malta returned to winning ways on Wednesday as a brace by Cain Attard and a goal by Joseph Mbong handed Devis Mangia’s side a 3-0 win over Cyprus in a match from Group H of the European Qualifiers. This was not only the first win for Malta in this group but also the first home win ever in a World Cup qualifier since the first participation in the 1974 World Cup campaign.
With Malta ranked 177th, compared to Cyprus 99th place, fans still hoped Malta could to achieve something from this game considering the team’s improvement in recent months. In fact, after collecting nine points from the UEFA Nations League last year, Malta had already earned a point in 2-2 draw with Slovakia away from home in March.
Speaking after the game, Malta coach Devis Mangia said “I was sure that the team could do a good job. This is the result of the work that we have been doing … all of us, including the association, the government and the supporters. It is a long-term project. We have to continue to work in this direction to make this country proud. The players have to believe that they are the first protagonists of this project and have to continue to look forward, push more and think that we can improve.”
A clash with Slovenia awaits Malta on Saturday. Slovenia opened their commitments in March with a home win over Croatia but then lost narrowly to Russia and Cyprus in two matches away from home. On Wednesday, they drew 1-1 with Slovakia in Ljubljana.
“Now Saturday’s game becomes the most important game for us. This evening, we have to celebrate a bit. The players did a very good job. It was not simple because in the beginning – in the first twenty minutes – we made some technical mistakes. They waited for us, they did not press us and may be we made a few mistakes but then we played a very good game.”
“We do not have to think that this was because we were one player more as sometimes games become more difficult because of this. May be, you do something wrong on the pitch or in the attitude. But, I think, the players played better in the second half than in the first. We created opportunities and scored some good goals.”
“We have to be confident. We know that all the games are very difficult but if there is the right approach, I think that we can do good things. It is clear that it is difficult. The rankings speak for themselves but I think that we have to continue to do our job … with our idea of football and I think that this would give us some satisfaction.”
The clash with Cyprus brought back spectators for a national team match for the first time since November 2019. When asked about the importance of the presence of supporters on the stands, the Malta coach said “The result speaks for their importance. We play for the supporters. This is football. You have to play for them. It is a show – you have to do a good performance and then the result can come and maybe sometimes no, but the performance is important and the attitude.”
“I want to make sure that the people are proud of our players. This is our target and we have to continue in this way,” added Devis Mangia.
The absence of a number of players forced the Malta coach to make a number of changes.
“I am happy that today we played with some players who had a good performance. On Saturday, maybe we will see some changes in the first eleven because we are a team where all the players can give us their contribution and can give us good results. Everybody has to be involved. It is clear that today that I am happy for what I saw on the pitch.”
Regarding the fact that younger players are doing well when called into action, Mangia said “This is the target. If you have to create a new project, we need the support of all the components – not just the coach and the players … the association, the government has to support the national team – as it is already doing, the supporters. We have to continue in this direction. We are doing this as we want to renew because if you want to build something, you have to give confidence to young players. We do not want players to become old and have just two three matches in the national team. Everybody has to understand that this is the project. Sometimes there are players with experience who have to wait because we want to push young players as we want to give them experience. The average age of the national team is going down but we are still having good performances.”
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/Malta FA