Malta national team coach Devis Mangia insists that it is the team’s performance against the Faroe Islands and Latvia which will show if the side is strong enough to compete, ahead of their first competitive outing in the UEFA Nations League Group D1.
Malta will be playing in the Faroe Islands, on Thursday, before hosting Latvia, on Sunday, with a considerably younger squad, having promoted a number of players from the Under-21 roster.
Mangia’s squad also features Italian defender Enrico Pepe and Teddy Teuma, who is on the books of Belgian second division side Royale Union Saint Gilloise, who acquired Maltese citizenship last week.
While the latter two players have brought about mixed feelings in the local football community, Mangia seems optimistic about their qualities and what they are able to bring to the table.
“(Enrico) Pepe – everybody knows him because he plays in Malta. We thought this player, in this moment, can help us,” the Head of the National Teams said.
“He has received citizenship for merit and we thought Enrico can give a good contribution to the national team.
“Teddy Teuma is a central midfielder who will join us today because he played on Sunday afternoon in the championship in Belgium and in our opinion, he is a player that can give a good contribution.”
Asked about the possibility of this being something we should get accustomed to, Mangia explained that the national team’s technical centre is following numerous players who might have the potential to join the squad in the future.
“If there are players who can get citizenship and that can help or be part of our project, the doors are open.
“There is no distinction, but you have to show you deserve to be here and that you are proud to play for our national team,” Mangia said.
“If they deserve it, we will think about them and if not, we will continue our work.”
The players promoted from the younger squads are also a part of the Italian’s project and he hopes they will complement current players despite being less experienced.
“If the players are here it means that they deserve to be here.
“I don’t care about age usually but in my opinion, it’s normal that if we want to build something we have to build also with the young players and give them the possibility to increase their international experience,” Mangia said.
“Maybe it can happen that we will see also some mistakes from them, but we have to support these players and help them to do their best because being here means that they have good skills and deserve to be here.”
The squad of 25 players announced last week is set to be reduced to a final 23 ahead of their flight to the Faroe Islands and Mangia said he should be taking his decision shortly.
This will be a blind date with destiny for the new coach after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Thursday’s match to be his first opportunity to see his players playing a full match.
He also emphasised that besides a few players from Floriana, Valletta and Hibernians, who played one game in European competition during the month of August, the rest have, since March, only trained and that this is part of his considerations for the game.
“All coaches wanted to have more time to prepare for their games, but we cannot find alibis. We must find only the opportunities. We know how our situation is at the moment, maybe we know how the situation is for the Faroes and Latvia as well – so we have to try to find the right solution for the games,” Mangia remarked.
“We will see on the pitch if we have the skill and ability to have a good result.
“Certainly, it’s important that we need to have a good attitude, this is obligatory. After, we know that football is football and in one match there are a lot of things which you cannot manage but the attitude depends only on us.”
The squad had the chance to prepare for the upcoming two matches in a training camp back in July.
Mangia said it was important to get to know the players better, saying that the technical staff and himself now know the players a bit better from a personal point of view because until then “we saw only some games in the stadium”.
While Latvia’s last encounter with the Maltese was back in 2011, the Faroes have become a regular opponent, with the national team facing them four times in the last two years.
However, Mangia wanted to make it clear that things are not as easy to predict in their plan, ahead of the game.
“It is clear that Malta changed its coach and that we decided to select this kind of squad, but Faroe (Islands) also changed some players and also the coach from last game,” he explained.
“So, there are some questions that maybe we, and them also, can discover only when we start the game.
“We have to be ready to adapt and maybe change something during the game when it’s different from what was expected.”