Malta faces delicate San Marino test in UEFA Nations League

Malta’s commitments in Group D2 of the UEFA Nations League get underway on Sunday as Devis Mangia’s side faces San Marino at the San Marino Stadium in Serravalle, kick-off at 15:00.

Malta is considered a stronger side than San Marino but the pressure to do well would therefore be much bigger than in other matches as the Maltese target a winning start in this UEFA Nations League campaign. Two years ago, Malta finished second behind the Faroe Islands to miss out on promotion and in order to be able to challenge for promotion, the national team cannot afford any result other than a win, also considering that Malta was drawn in a group of three teams, the other being Estonia.

Addressing the media on Saturday, Devis Mangia said “San Marino, in the last three games with the new coach and technical staff, were always in the game and this is something we have to consider. We have to play our game, to be patient and play our football.”

“It is an honour to know that the opinion out there is that Malta is one of the favourites to win the group.  That means we are doing a good job.” 

“We played Venezuela three days ago, but that was a friendly match and one should not compare the two.  Our targets for that game were reached; to stay in the game, to have our moments and to give space to players so they show their worth.”

“We are playing against a level of opposition who is at a par with us at the moment.  The Nations League has given countries like ours the opportunity to plan and dream to advance.”

The Malta coach said UEFA Nations League matches enables rapid improvement in particular characteristics which is not always possible when facing much stronger opponents in the European Qualifiers.

“The challenges of the game in San Marino will be different, especially having to play at three in the afternoon in the scorching heat.  We have to make sure our levels of concentration are really high,” added Mangia.

Malta defender Enrico Pepe said “It will be no easy game and it never is, especially in such competitions at national team level because you give that something extra as you not only play for the shirt but for the whole country. It will definitely be no easy game and we know that we have an opponent who is also growing football-wise and therefore we are expecting a difficult game. We will give our hundred percent and we will be fully-prepared.”

Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina / Malta FA

In view of this campaign, Malta played three friendly matches, defeating Azerbaijan 1-0 and Kuwait 2-0 in March, losing narrowly to Venezuela last Wednesday.

From the game against Venezuela, the Malta national team head coach will definitely make a number of changes, considering that Ryan Camenzuli and Teddy Teuma are ruled out through suspension while Jake Grech was not included in the squad which travelled to San Marino.

In Wednesday’s game, Henry Bonello, Jean Borg, Adam Magri Overend, Joseph Mbong, Alex Satariano and Jurgen Degabrele were all rested and at least four of these players are expected to start on Sunday.

The players at the disposal of Devis Mangia are:

Goalkeepers Henry Bonello (Hamrun Spartans FC), Cain Formosa (San Gwann FC), Jake Galea (Balzan FC)

Defenders Ferdinando Apap (Hibernians FC), Jean Borg (Valletta FC), Steve Borg (Hamrun Spartans FC), James Brown (St. Johnstone FC – SCO), Karl Micallef (Hamrun Spartans FC), Zach Muscat (Casa Pia – POR), Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara FC)

Midfielders Juan Carlos Corbalan (Hamrun Spartans FC), Matias Nicolas Garcia (Floriana FC), Matthew Guillaumier (A.C. Siena – ITA), Adam Magri Overend (Floriana FC), Joseph Essien Mbong (Hamrun Spartans FC), Nikolai Muscat (Gżira United FC), Brandon Diego Paiber (Floriana FC), Dunstan Vella (Hibernians FC)

Forwards Jan Busuttil (Floriana FC), Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians FC), Luke Gambin (Hamrun Spartans FC), Paul Mbong (Birkirkara FC), Luke Montebello (Birkirkara FC), Alexander Satariano (U.S. Pergolettese 1932 – ITA)

San Marino have already played their first game in the group, losing 2-0 to Estonia at the A Le Coq Arena in Tallinn on Thursday. This was the fifteenth successive defeat for San Marino, the last positive result being the goalless draw with Gibraltar in the last edition of the UEFA Nations League, in November 2020.

San Marino coach Fabrizio Costantini was satisfied with his side’s performance in Tallinn and is looking forward to another good performance on Sunday, also hoping for a positive result.

Costantini welcomes back central defender Dante Rossi after serving a one-match ban but Filippo Fabbri and Manuel Battistini are ruled out. Luca Ceccaroli joined the squad for this game.

The players at the disposal of the San Marino coach are:

goalkeepers Elia Benedittini (Cesena), Simon Benedittini (Murata), Aldo Simoncini (Tre Fiori);
defenders Davide Cesarini (Tre Penne), Michele Cevoli (Juvenes-Dogana), Alessandro D’Addario (Tre Fiori), Andrea Grandoni (La Fiorita), Mirko Palazzi (Cattolica), Dante Rossi (Foligno);
midfielders Michael Battistini (Tre Penne), Luca Ceccaroli (Tre Penne), Luca Censoni (Tre Fiori), Alessandro Golinucci (Virtus), Lorenzo Lunadei (La Fiorita), Marcello Mularoni (Tropical Coriano), Danilo Rinaldi (La Fiorita), David Tomassini (Tropical Coriano), Fabio Tomassini (CBR Carli Pietracuta), Tommaso Zafferani (La Fiorita);
forwards Marco Bernardi (Murata), Adolfo Hirsch (Folgore), Nicola Nanni (Lucchese), Matteo Vitaioli (Tropical Coriano).

This will only be the second clash between Malta and San Marino. The first match between the two countries was played in 2012 when Malta defeated San Marino 3-2 in Serravalle in a friendly match.

San Marino vs Malta will be controlled by officials from Azerbaijan, namely referee Aliyar Aghayev, assistant referees Zeynal Zeynalov and Akif Amirali and fourth official Rauf Jabarov. The video assistant referee is Cesar Soto Grado from Spain who will be assisted by Iker De Fransisco.