Following a disappointing performance and 0-4 defeat to Slovenia, Malta will be in action once again on Monday, facing Cyprus at the AEK Arena in Larnaca on Monday, kick-off at 18:00 CET.
This clash will put against each other the two teams sharing the bottom spot in Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Malta collected four points so far thanks to a 2-2 draw with Slovakia and a 3-0 win over Cyprus at Ta’ Qali last month while Cyprus held Slovakia in a goalless draw and defeated Slovenia 1-0 in two home matches in March.
However, in the FIFA World Ranking, sixty eight places separate the two teams with Cyprus lying in the 103rd place and Malta 171st.
Addressing the media on Sunday, Malta coach Devis Mangia said the team was fully focussed on putting up a good performance in Cyprus. He said that the fact that the players were disappointed and upset because of the result of Friday’s game was something positive.
“This means that we believe that we are better than what we showed in the last game.”
The Malta coach said that too much emphasis was being put on this last game but one should consider the positive things the team did over the past months.
“Too much focus is being put on what happened in one game and less focus on the other games. I do not have to consider only the last game but also all the good things the team showed before the last game. In my opinion, we have to consider the very good performance in the UEFA Nations League, a good performance in March, the very good performances we had in September … I do not want to focus too much on one game that was not as we wished. We have to focus on the good things. I will take the good from these games. I prefer to see this positive side and reinforce the good things my team is able to do.”
When asked whether he had this game in mind when some players were not included in the starting line-up for the last game, Mangia denied this, saying that in his opinion, the players who started were better for that game and this will also be the case on Monday. “We are here to try to win and have a good performance. Today we will see how the players are and then will make our evaluations and take the decisions.”
“I think that they want to show they are better and we want to show that we are better … what we showed in the last games. We have to consider that for us, in my opinion, this will be a tough game because I am sure that Cyprus did not expect to lose in Malta 3-0. So I think that tomorrow they want to show they are better than that.”
“We have to start from this. It is very important to have the right attitude in tomorrow’s game. We have to keep this in mind and that we have to give more than our hundred percent.”
Mangia is not worried about any possible pressure to achieve another positive result on Monday.
“I like the pressure. If a player, a coach, a team manager, a kit manager, a physio do not feel the pressure before an international game, it is better to stay at home. This is the best thing in football – to have a bit of pressure, to feel the game. We know what we have to do. I am sure the players will do their best tomorrow and then we will see who will be the better team on the pitch.”
Mangia will be forced to make changes to the team as Joseph Mbong is ruled out through suspension along with Alexander Satariano.
“The twenty four players that are here are available. Now I will see after the training because I need to check the condition of some of the players but I do not want to focus too much on the players who are not here but on the ones who are here because we never depend on only one player. “
Ryan Camenzuli, who is set to start after missing the last game through suspension, said that the atmosphere within the squad is very positive and they were fully focussed on the game. Despite the setback against Slovenia, Camenzuli said that the players believe that together they can come out very strongly on the pitch.
Asked for the reason why the national players were gathering earlier than they used to in the past for national team matches, Mangia said “Considering the work we are trying to do, we need this time to try to improve. I think that this was important considering the number of Maltese players playing abroad. If this were to increase, maybe, we would reduce this period of training, or maybe open it to other young players.”
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina / Malta FA
Cyprus lost eleven out of their last fifteen matches and are coming from six consecutive defeats – two friendlies away from home against Hungary and Ukraine and the last four qualifiers against Malta, Russia, Slovakia and Croatia. Against Malta, they will be all out to return to winning ways ahead of their final two matches from these qualifiers and next month’s UEFA Nations League play-outs against Estonia to avoid relegation to League D.
Speaking on Sunday, coach Nikos Kostenoglou said that the team is eager to do well and claim victory against Malta. He launched an appeal to fans to back the team and give them extra motivation.
“We have to be realistic about what our potential is as a national team at the moment. As a coach, I want my team to be better and more efficient. It is not at all easy for me as a coach for my team to suffer consecutive defeats. Unfortunately, we did not manage to play with the same players in two consecutive matches in this series of matches, and even tomorrow we will have two forced changes due to injury.”
Forward Pieros Sotiriou added that the players have to be focused and give their very best to get the three points.
The players selected by Kostenoglou are goalkeepers Neophytos Michael (APOEL), Demetris Demetriou (Apollon) and Andreas Keravnos (AEL); Paris Psaltis (Omonia), Marios Dimitriou, Konstantinos Sotiriou (AEL), Marios Antoniadis (Anorthosis), Stelios Andreou (Charleroi), Nikolas Panagiotou (Omonia), Nikolas Ioannou (Como), Rafail Mamas (AEK), Charalambos Kyriakos (Apollon), Loizos Loizou (Omonia), Marinos Tzionis (Omonia), Pieros Sotiriou (Ludogorets) and Fotis Papoulis (Omonia).
This will be the eighth clash between Malta and Cyprus and the fourth competitive match between the two teams. In the previous seven matches, Malta won two, Cyprus three with the other two matches ending in draws. Malta had defeated Cyprus in a friendly match in Limassol in 1988. Apart from last month’s 3-0 win for Malta, the other two competitive matches ended in 2-1 wins for Cyprus in the EURO 2004 qualifiers, winning in Nicosia in November 2002 and at Ta’ Qali in June 2003.
The match will be controlled by officials from the Netherlands, namely referee Dennis Higler, assistant referees Erwin Zeinstra and Mario Diks, Video Assistant Referee Allard Lindhout, Assistant Video Assistant Referee Rob Dieperink and fourth official Jeroen Manschot.