Malta coach Devis Mangia rued the team’s technical mistakes in the final third of the pitch after the national team were held by Andorra to a goalless draw in the UEFA Nations League qualifier in La Vella on Saturday.
The national team entered Saturday’s League D Group 1 match in high spirits following the midweek friendly win over Gibraltar and expectations were high that they could clinch their first win in the competition.
However, Mangia’s men found the going tough against Andorra as despite enjoying 73 per cent of possession, they could only muster the only shot on target of the match as the home side mounted a high defensive wall that made it tough for the visitors to create any danger.
“Although we gained a positive result, I felt that the attitude of the team was not the best to try and play a good game,” Mangia said.
“I felt that the team made a lot of mistakes from a technical point of view in the final third and that made it difficult to create chances against an Andorran team who were very aggressive and put on a defensive wall in front of us.
“We have to admit that we were the only team in the match that tried to play positive football to win the match as Andorra were continuously trying to lose time and commit several cheap fouls to disrupt our rhythm.
“But we have to look at ourselves and although we had a lot of possession our end product was not so good in the final game.”
Mangia said that Saturday’s match provided an indication of which areas the players needed to improve on, but he admitted that the national team were still very much a work in progress.
“For us the match against Andorra was an eye-opener in the sense that it has exposed areas we need to improve,” the Italian coach said.
“Unfortunately, during the build-up for this game, we could not have all the players available for training throughout the whole period so that made it more difficult.
“Personally, I feel it’s good that we found ourselves in the position of having the opponents showing us a lot of respect and try to hit us on the counter, something that normally we are forced to do.
“But one has to remember that this is still a long process and we cannot improve everything at the same time. Gradually, we need to find a way to improve on that aspect too.”
Asked whether he regretted his decision of not starting with Luke Montebello from the start against Andorra given his physical qualities, Mangia said: “Unfortunately, Luke came into these qualifiers having not played a lot of minutes this season and I need to manage well my players’ energy levels.
“We have another game in two days’ time and he is our only real forward in the squad following the injury to Kyrian Nwoko. I will have to see how his condition is and surely if he recovers well I will use him against Latvia.”
Mangia said that on the long-term his main task is to change the players’ mentality.
“We are starting to create something here in the national team and surely we need time so that we change the team’s mentality,” the Italian coach said.
“We have only been working for five months so everyone needs to be patient before we finally get the dividends.
“Obviously, when we play teams who are of a higher level than us, like Spain, Italy or Belgium, it will be difficult for us to dominate possession. But if we could do that for five or ten minutes I’m sure it will help us to step up our level.
“I repeat, we need time and I’m doing this not for myself but for Maltese football. We are united towards reaching our objectives of putting the national team on a more solid foundation.”