Following the highly disappointing 1-7 defeat to Croatia, Malta coach Devis Mangia urged the players to turn the page and focus on the next game as Malta hosts Slovakia in the final match from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 15:00.
Malta had quite a positive campaign, with a win over Cyprus and two away draws against Slovakia and Cyprus from the first nine matches, disappointing only in the defeats to Slovenia last month and Croatia on Thursday.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/Malta FA
“When you suffer a defeat like this, it is not simple to turn the page and be focussed on what we can manage. I try to send this message because what happened was not good. We were all upset and disappointed for this but we cannot change that. We now have a game tomorrow that we can do something about it. We have to be focussed on this game as it not the right time to lose energy on something you cannot control.”
The Malta coach clarified that in the after-match comments on Thursday, he said that he will stand behind the players.
“I will stand behind the players means that I am responsible, I have the responsibility of the team and I beleive in what we are doing and I believe in my players.”
Speaking about Sunday’s game, Mangia said “We are focused on having a good performance. Without putting any kind of pressure, we play our game and staying focused on the game.”
“From a technical point of view, together with Croatia, they are the best teams in the group. They will come here to do their best and win points, in the same way that we will be focussed on our performance and play our game.”
“We are in a process .. trying to develop something. When you are in a process, it is normal that there will be ups and downs. I have to be focussed and try to manage and balance all this. But it is normal as there are a lot of young players, others who have never played at this level against this kind of opponents.”
Mangia added that there is a difference between playing in friendly matches or the UEFA Nations League and playing such qualifiers against this kind of teams.
“We have to pass through such moments. We will learn step by step and build something. To build something, one has to be balanced in making evaluations.”
With regards to the game plan adopted since the appointment of Devis Mangia as Malta coach, goalkeeper Henry Bonello added that with the technical plan adopted by former Italy Under-21 coach, he is more engaged as the team builds up from the back. He said that this helps the team maintain a bit more possession than before.
For Sunday’s game, Devis Mangia is expected to make a number of changes. Enrico Pepe is ruled out through suspension as he received his second yellow card but further changes are expected as the Malta coach had already stated that a number of players would not be in a condition to play the two matches.
Juan Corbalan and Adam Magri Overend are unavailable as they are nursing injuries.
The players selected by Mangia are:
goalkeepers Henry Bonello (Hamrun), Jake Galea (Balzan), Matthew Grech (Pembroke Athleta);
defenders Andrei Agius (HIbs), Jean Borg (Valletta), Triston Caruana (Valletta), Karl Micallef (Hamrun), Zach Muscat (Casa Pia), Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara), Kurt Shaw (Sliema);
midfielders Cain Attard (Birkirkara), Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana), Matthew Guillaumier (Hamrun), Bjorn Kristensen (Hibs), Joseph Mbong (Hamrun), Steve Pisani (Gzira), Nevin Portelli (Gzira), Teddy Teuma (Union Saint Gilloise), Dunstan Vella (Hibs);
forwards Jurgen Degabriele (Hibs), Shaun Dimech (Valletta), Luke Gambin (Hamrun), Jake Grech (Hibs), Paul Mbong (Birkirkara), Luke Montebello (Birkirkara), Alex Satariano (Frosinone).
Although Slovakia stand no chance of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the third place in the group is at stake as they currently on the 11-point mark with Slovenia who host Cyprus in another match on Sunday.
Slovakia drew 0-0 with Cyprus away from home and 2-2 at home with Malta before registering their first win, defeating Russia 2-1 in Trnava. Slovakia then defeated Cyprus 2-0 at home and following a narrow defeat to Rusia away from home, Slovakia held Croatia in a 2-2 draw away from home before being held in a 2-2 draw by Slovenia at home on Thursday.
Coach Štefan Tarkovič is forced to make a number of changes due to the absence of a number of players. With captain Marek Hamšík and his deputies Peter Pekarík and Juraj Kucka all ruled out injured, Inter’s Milan Škriniar is set to wear the captain’s armband.
Skriniar said this will be no easy match as shown clearly in March when Malta defended well and scored goals in an organized manner.
Tarkovic added that Malta scored just two goals less than Slovakia. “The quality is on our side, but we have to confirm it on the field and in the match.”
The players selected by Tarkovic are:
Goalkeepers Marek Rodák (FC Fulham), Dušan Kuciak (Lechia Gdansk), Martin Dúbravka (Newcastle United)
Defenders: Martin Koscelník (Slovan Liberec), Vernon de Marco (ŠK Slovan), Ľubomír Šatka (Lech Poznaň), Milan Škriniar (Inter), Dávid Hancko (Sparta Praha), Jakub Holúbek (Piast Gliwice)
Midfielders: Matúš Bero (Vitesse Arnhem), Ondrej Duda (1. FC Koln), Stanislav Lobotka (SSC Napoli), Albert Rusnák (Real Salt Lake), Jakub Hromada (Slavia Praha)
Forwards: Róbert Boženík (Fortuna Düsseldorf), David Strelec (Spezia Calcio), Ladislav Almási (Baník Ostrava), Róbert Mak (Ferencváros Budapešť), Erik Jirka (Real Oviedo), Lukáš Haraslín (Sparta Praha), Tomáš Suslov (FC Groningen)
Malta and Slovakia met nine times – four friendly matches and five World Cup qualifiers. Malta had obtained a 1-1 draw in a friendly match in August 1994 before the 2-2 draw in Trnava last March, courtesy of Luke Gambin and Alex Satariano. In the other World Cup qualifiers played at Ta’ Qali, Slovakia won 2-0 in March 1997 and 3-1 in March 2017.
The match will be controlled by Croatian officials, namely referee Fran Jović, assistant referees Hrvoje Radić and Bojan Zobenica, Video Assistant Referee Duje Strukan, Assistant Video Assistant Referee Mario Zebec and fourth official Dario Bel.
Tickets for will be available from the West C Ticket booth.