The Malta Under-21 side plays its final match from Group C of the UEFA Under-21 Championship qualifying round, facing group winners Spain at the Estadio Municipal Alvarez Claro in the city of Melilla situated on the Morocco-Spain border in North Africa on Tuesday.
Following Friday’s home game against Slovakia missing, Floriana duo Aleandro Garzia and Andreas Vella are ruled out and they were replaced by Karl Mohnani, who plays his trade with Swansea University in Wales and Melita’s rising star Matthew Debattista.
The team obtained six points from the seven matches played so far and scored nine goals – two goals each for Ayrton Attard and Mattia Veselji, one each for Jamie Sixsmith, Jake Engerer, Marcus Grima, Andrea Zammit and Joseph Zammit.
Coach Gilbert Agius gave out a detailed overview at the end of the current campaign and ahead of final ninety minutes.
“From day one since taking my role, my number one objective has been to nurture and develop this crop of players to make the step up and be in the reckoning and ready for the senior side. I truly believe there are few who are now closer of making the step if they maintain this attitude, keep growing in personality and strive further with their desire and commitment.
“These 18 months together with the rest of my technical staff we have witnessed considerable improvement, also willingness by the players to further construe our pathways and what is required by them in this unified game philosophy we are trying to implement, has not been easy for some of them to adapt to this complete overhaul in the style of play.”
“The period of time together has been relatively short, so we are really grateful that we as coaches have managed to transmit this new philosophy driven forward by the Technical Center, and we are pleased to note that some of these players in current squad could have the opportunity to work with us again as they are still eligible for next competition. Therefore it is our duty to keep working closely with them, set out higher standards and reach our ultimate targets,” Agius declared.
With regards to the way the team conceded all three goals in injury time of both halves on Friday’s 1-3 home defeat against Slovakia, Agius said that the overall players’ performance was commendable nonetheless and went on to highlight that his players were disciplined and tactically almost perfect, hence the final result was significantly harsh considering the bold efforts by this group of players.
Conceding three goals beyond the normal 45 minutes of play in each half on Friday has injected more resolve to avoid these situations in the 90 minutes on Tuesday.
“Spain on Tuesday will be very tough, they are top of the group already having already qualified to the final phase of European Championship. In their last match they netted six goals against Northern Ireland away from home, so we are fully aware of the strength of our opponents on Tuesday.”
“However the way we lost and how things turned out over the 90 minutes on Friday filled my players with more energy to perform once again at their very best, avoid silly mistakes, stay compact and disciplined, give our opponents no space to move freely with the ball in their feet and also take full advantage of our possession and transition play,” added Gilbert Agius.