Following an impressive 3-0 win over Cyprus at Ta’ Qali and a narrow defeat to Slovenia away from home, Malta faces a most difficult test on Tuesday against Russia at the Otkritie Bank Arena in Moscow, kick-off at 20:45.
The defeat to Slovenia was a bitter pill to swallow, considering the fact that Slovenia scored the only goal thanks to a penalty just before the end of the first half – a decision by the Latvian referee which seemed too harsh on Devis Mangia’s side.
The Malta coach was satisfied with the team’s performance which signalled further improvement by his side.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/Malta FA
Speaking to the media on Monday, Mangia said “We have improved, and that is a fact, however we can improve in all areas. When there is no need of further improvement then my job as a coach will become obsolete.”
The match against Russia will be the third one in a week and a number of changes to the line-up are expected. Enrico Pepe was withdrawn from the squad after sustaining an injury in Ljubljana while other players could not be perfectly fit to play on Tuesday.
Mangia had earlier stressed that it was never his intention to use players for the three matches and just like the game against Slovenia when he made five changes from the team which played against Cyprus, this should also be the case.
Malta had already played Russia in March, losing 1-3 at Ta’ Qali but following the appointment of Valery Karpin as new coach, the team had some changes.
“Russia is a different team than the one we played against in Malta in March of this year. The appointment of the coach changed the style of play. The coach has made a number of changes, however we have to play our football and see that our performance improves.”
Goalkeeper Henry Bonello said “The team has to follow the coach’s instructions and believe in what we are working on, then we will reap benefits.”
Meanwhile Valery Karpin said the match against Malta will be no easy game.
“Football has changed. Small teams have pulled up, we can see this in the qualifying matches. Malta in the last game lost 0-1 to Slovenia, conceding a goal after a dubious penalty. The way they play football, they come out of defense with control of the ball … The size of the country is absolutely not felt on the field of play. A series of seven unbeaten matches speaks volumes,” said the new Russia coach.
Russia currently lead the way in Group H. They kicked-off their commitments with a 3-1 win over Malta at Ta’ Qali, followed by a 2-1 win over Slovenia. However in their third game, they lost 2-1 to Slovakia in Trnava. Following two friendly matches against Poland (1-1) and Bulgaria (1-0) and their EURO 2020 commitments which saw Russia lose 0-3 to Belgium, beat Finland 1-0 and lose 1-4 to Denmark, Russia drew 0-0 wtih Croatia at home, defeating Cyprus 2-0 in Nicosia last Saturday.
This will only be the third clash between Malta and Russia and the first on Russian soil. Russia had defeated Malta 2-0 in the Malta International Tournament in 1996 before the clash in March which was the first competitive match between the two countries.
The match will be controlled by Turkish officials, namely referee Ali Palabıyık, assistant referees Ceyhun Sesigüzel and Serkan Olguncan, fourth official Yasar Kemal Ugurlu, Video Assistant Referee Abdulkadir Bitigen and Assistant Video Assistant Referee Mete Kalkavan