While addressing a press conference on the eve of the friendly match against Azerbaijan in programme at the National Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 19:00, Malta national team head coach Devis Mangia said he was expecting his players to be in a better physical condition.
Malta is coming from two heavy defeats to Croatia and Slovakia in the final two matches from the European Qualifiers where the national team conceded thirteen goals and scored one. This match, together with the one against Kuwait, in programme on Tuesday, will serve as preparation for the UEFA Nations League Group D2 commitments where Malta will be facing San Marino and the loser of the play-out between Estonia and Cyprus.
“These are two important matches that can give us some advice or more information regarding some players. Maybe we will also try something but we will see,” said the Malta coach.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina / Malta FA
The local-based players joined the squad for training last week after taking part in the Round of 16 of the Izibet FA Trophy. The Malta coach complained that he was expecting the players to be in a better physical condition.
“In general, from a physical point of view, I expected a better physical condition which was not so good. The data also showed us that the players that play abroad are clearly in a better condition. Even if we look at other parameters, such as the nutrition test and body fat. From this point of view, I expected something better.”
These friendly matches will finally give St Johnstone defender James Brown the opportunity to make his debut with the Malta national team after injuries ruled him out of the last four World Cup qualifiers in October and November.
“We have two games and therefore I think that in either the first or the second or even both, he will be one of the players who we will definitely see in action in these two games.”
The Malta coach added that the only player who is unavailable is Cain Attard who sustained an injury which will rule him out for a number of weeks.
One player who will definitely take part in Friday’s game is Andrei Agius who will be making a final appearance for the national team. Agius, who is now thirty five years old had made his national team debut on February 25, 2006 in a match from the Malta International Tournament against Moldova. He played 102 times for the national team, scoring six goals. The game against Azerbaijan will therefore be his 103rd appearance for the national team.
“Andrei Agius is a guy that helped us a lot and is someone who gave a big contribution to the national team and to the game in general in Malta,” said Mangia.
Positive results in these two friendly matches could serve as a morale booster ahead of the UEFA Nations League campaign where Malta will be facing San Marino and the loser of the two-legged play-out between Estonia and Cyprus.
Fans hope the team will bounce back with a positive result in these friendly matches following the disappointing finale in an otherwise positive campaign in the European Qualifiers.
“We always try to get good results through good performances. Sometimes it happens, other times no. I think that in over two years, there were only three matches where we were not OK from a performance point of view. We have to improve this because although it is not a bad percentage … the problem is that sometimes we tend to remember just the last game but we have to consider everything. But the result is an important component … through a good performance … for the rankings and for us to restart in the right way for the Nations League. ”
However Mangia continues to stress that his project was a long-term one.
“I continue to focus on our project. To build something, it has to be a long-term process and a long-term programme. For this reason we are working on young players. Since we arrived, we renewed the team, putting a lot of new players because to change the trend, you have to start to build something and then this will pay dividends if we work in the right way. When we say we work the right way, not only the staff of the national team but also the association, the players and all the stakeholders. We are trying to develop at youth level to build something. It is clear that then we will also focus on the short-term. To obtain something we need to work in the right way. Otherwise it would be a loss of time.”
With regards to Malta’s opponents on Friday, Mangia said that apart from the players plying their trade in Europe, players from their domestic league have more experience.
“Clubs from Azerbaijan, like Qarabag. for example, feature quite regularly in the group stages of UEFA competitions and this increases the international experience of the players. This is something which makes the difference and this is something we are trying to do to improve by increasing the number of matches for our young players at international level where the intensity of the game is different, the opponents are different … this can help us.”
The two countries met eight times. Malta defeated Azerbaijan 5-0 in a friendly match in April 1994, 3-0 in the Malta International Tournament in February 2000 and 1-0 in a friendly match in April 2002. Azerbaijan registered a 3-0 win in a friendly match in Baku in August 2013 and then won 2-0 in a EURO 2016 qualifier in Baku in March 2015. In the return match, Malta and Azerbaijan shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw in September 2015 at Ta’ Qali. In 2018, in the UEFA Nations League, the two clashes between the two teams ended in 1-1 draws.
“Comparing our team to Azerbaijan is difficult. We may have obtained more points (in the European Qualifiers) but they had less teams in their group. The thing that can be important is the fact that Azerbaijan has more players who have more experience at international level – through players who play abroad or through the quality of clubs who qualify for UEFA competitions because to play six, eight or ten games in Europa League or Europa Conference League sure helps players to grow. “
Mangia praised Azerbaijan coach Gianni De Biasi, saying that he is a very good coach and that his career speaks for himself – for what he did in Italy and especially at international level with Albania whom he led to the EURO 2016 finals.
National team midfielder Matthew Guillaumier, who joined Siena in the Italian Serie C during the January transfer window.
“The experience has been positive so far. Finally I got the chance to play abroad. The biggest difference I see is the intensity even though it is not one of the highest leagues in Italy but it is still a very good level. Another thing that struck me was the way football clubs are run. It is different to here and I think that this is the way how it should be. For example, even regarding set-up, you have more physios, more physical trainers, the gym next to the pitch where you could train and do extra work. So it is an ideal place where you can continue improving as a player and as an individual. “
Guillaumier added that the players are confident ahead of these matches. “Although these are friendly matches, we all know that we want to do well and win the games. Everybody is optimistic that we can and if we do what we are asked to do and obviously help each other, in the times when we have to suffer as a team, I think we can do well in both games and in the future.”
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina / Malta FA
The players at the disposal of coach Devis Mangia are:
Henry Bonello (Ħamrun Spartans FC); Matthew Calleja Cremona (Hibernians FC); Jake Galea (Balzan FC)
Andrei Agius (Hibernians FC); Ferdinando Apap (Hibernians FC); Jean Borg (Valletta FC); Steve Borg (Ħamrun Spartans FC); James Brown (St. Johnstone FC – SCO), Triston Caruana (Valletta FC); Karl Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans FC); Zach Muscat (Casa Pia – POR); Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara FC)
Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana FC); Matthew Guillaumier (A.C. Siena – ITA); Adam Magri Overend (Floriana FC); Joseph Essien Mbong (Ħamrun Spartans FC); Nikolai Muscat (Gżira United FC); Brandon Diego Paiber (Floriana FC); Steven Pisani (Gżira United FC); Nevin Portelli (Gżira United FC); Teddy Teuma (R.U. Saint Gilloise- BE); Dunstan Vella (Hibernians FC)
Jan Busuttil (Floriana FC); Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians FC); Jake Grech (Hibernians FC); Paul Mbong (Birkirkara FC); Luke Montebello (Birkirkara FC); Alexander Satariano (U.S. Pergolettese 1932 – ITA)
Meanwhile, earlier on Friday, Latvia take on Kuwait in another friendly match at the National Stadium, kick-off at 13:00.
On Tuesday, Malta takes on Kuwait while Latvia face Azerbaijan.