The Malta national team will be in action for a fourth time in twelve days, hosting San Marino in a match from Group D2 of the UEFA Nations League at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 20:45.
This will also be the third UEFA Nations League match in a week and the second against San Marino. Malta had defeated San Marino 2-0 at the San Marino Stadium in Serravalle last Sunday courtesy of two second-half goals by Jan Busuttil and Matthew Guillaumier.
On Thursday, Malta lost an important game against Estonia, losing 1-2 with the visitors notching the winner deep into stoppage time. However, what was most worrying was the number of technical mistakes. Two mistakes led to Estonia’s two goals which eventually handed them an edge in Group D2 and now all they need to secure promotion to League C is to avoid losing to Malta at home in September.
Off the pitch, on Friday, the passing away of national team kit manager Mark Piscopo, better known as Lullu, came as a shock for the players, technical staff and all those involved in the national team and the association.
Addressing the Match Day -1 press conference on Saturday, Malta coach Devis Mangia said “I want to give my condolences from me, the technical staff, all the staff and the players to Lullu’s family – in particular, his wife and his son. This is one of the most difficult moments.”
“When I met Lullu for the first time, I said ‘he is a pillar of the national team’. I will leave, the players will change but Lullu will be always there.”
“The only thing that we can do now is to honour his memory and to do our best tomorrow to maintain open this group … win the game and then see what will happen in September.”
When asked how challenging was it to lift the morale of the players, considering the disappointing defeat to Estonia, Mangia said “It is difficult in a normal situation. You can imagine how more difficult it is now.” At the end, this is football. We are speaking about a person who is no longer here. Football is a game … everything passes. “
“It is clear that this is the game that we have to play. We have to do our best. If we win, we maintain open the group. But the real thing is that we can honour Lullu with a good performance and a good result.”
Zach Muscat added that Lullu was always there to lift the spirits of the national team players, especially when results were not those desired.
“Allegrija … kuraġġ …. those are the words which come to mind when I think about Lullu. When the mentality of the national team was a bit different, something which only the players could understand, he was always there to lift the pressure and the tension off the players. He used to help us process certain results with his joyful character and help you understand the better things in life. He was a key figure in the dressing room. The players always looked up to him,” added Muscat.
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From the game against San Marino, Mangia made minimal changes to the team for the clash with Estonia but on Sunday, he is now expected to make further changes, not only due to technical and tactical reasons but also due to the fact that some players would not be ready to play a third game in a week due to their physical condition, this being the end of a hectic season. In fact, the Malta coach said that he would be making his final decision after Saturday’s final training session.
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 Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana FC), 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), Teddy Teuma (R.U. Saint Gilloise – BE), 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).
Meanwhile for San Marino, coach Fabrizio Costantini said that in last Sunday’s game, his team played a great game until the episode of the on-field VAR review of the penalty. He stressed on theneed to remain focussed as the team plays its fourth game in eleven days. He said the friendly match against Iceland on Thursday showed that the team is in good condition and that they players are adopting the change of mentality.
San Marino had suffered a 2-0 defeat to Estonia in the opening match from Group D2 and after losing to Malta 0-2, they suffered a narrow defeat to Iceland in a friendly match ahead of Sunday’s clash against Malta.
The players at the disposal of coach Costantini 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 Filippo Fabbri (Forli), Adolfo Hirsch (Folgore), Nicola Nanni (Lucchese), Matteo Vitaioli (Tropical Coriano).
This will be the first time Malta will face San Marino on home soil.
The match will be controlled by offcials from the Netherlands, namely referee Dennis Higler, assistant referees Erwin Zeinstra and Mario Diks, fourth official Sander Van Der Eijk, video assistant referee Jeroen Manschot and assistant video assistant referee Allard Lindhout.