Malta national team head coach Devis Mangia heaped praise on his players who showed remarkable character to come from behind and beat Andorra 3-1 at the National Stadium on Saturday.
Needing a win at all costs to keep up the pressure on the Faroe Islands, the League D Group 1 leaders, the Maltese players suffered a major shock when Andorra surged ahead in their first attempt at goal after only three minutes of play.
But the Maltese players showed great mental strength to keep their poise and managed to turn the match in their favour after the interval when an own goal by Emilii Garcia and a Jurgen Degabriele header put the hosts 2-1 ahead.
Shaun Dimech put the seal on a remarkable victory when netting the team’s third goal to become Malta’s youngest ever scorer for the senior national team.
Saturday’s win over Andorra all but assured the national team of second place in Group 1 as they amassed a record eight points – the highest ever collected in a qualifying campaign since the Euro 2008 qualifiers when the team led by Dusan Fitzel picked up five points.
Added to that it was the sixth positive result in a row, something only achieved once before between November 2001 and April 2002, while it was the team’s third win in a row – a feat only achieved once in our national team’s history.
Things could get even sweeter tomorrow when Malta faces the Faroe Islands in the final Group 1 match at the National Stadium as a win for Mangia’s men will see them top the group and win an historic promotion to League C.
The national team set-up no doubt deserves all the praise for their recent achievements which had its roots in the previous spell of coach Ray Farrugia who had the courage to introduce several young players to senior international football.
Mangia lauded his players’ mental strength in managing to turn around a match that had taken a very difficult twist.
“I only have words of praise for my players who had a very good game despite the difficulties we encountered throughout the match,” Mangia said.
“I am also pleased for the association who have been behind us since the start of this journey.
“We started the match a bit nervous and we found ourselves behind in the only opportunity Andorra created in the first half.
“The goal came from a mistake in set-piece defending but one has to remember that the players are human beings.
“We were under a lot of pressure as there was great expectation for a win today, and that is a situation the players are not used to. It was the first time that they felt that kind of pressure and I am really happy for them as they showed great mental strength to turn it around.”
Mangia said that the team’s transformation in the second half was all down to the fact that the players were more relaxed mentally.
“In the first half the team struggled to play the way we wanted and we struggled to create chances,” the former Palermo coach said.
“But in the second half, the players took the pitch with more tranquility and once we got the equaliser we were firmly in control. We created a lot of chances and managed to kill off our opponents.
“The third goal gave me a lot of satisfaction as it came from a good combination by three players who came off the bench, which shows that we are a team and that we have players who can come on the pitch during a match and perform very well.”
Asked whether he ever thought that the national team would enjoy so much success in such an early stage of his tenure, Mangia said: “To be honest, no.
“Before I met the players in July, I was not so optimistic to have this kind of performance so quickly. One must remember that when we started the players hadn’t play a competitive match for six months so from a physical point of view we had a lot of work to do.
“I didn’t prioritise results at the start and when we played in the Faroe Islands, the team performed well, albeit we lost the match when conceding two late goals.
“But I’m blessed to have a group of players who have a very good attitude and were willing to follow this idea of football that we tried to implement and I only have words of praise for the application of the players who deserve all the praise they are receiving at the moment.”
One player that is standing out for the national team is midfielder Teddy Teuma.
The Royale Union Saint Gilloise midfielder, who had already been earmarked by previous Malta coach Ray Farrugia, produced another dominant performance in midfield and Mangia said that he is not surprised by his impact.
“When I came here to start my work, I had started to work on a number of players who could join the national team through their Maltese roots,” Mangia said.
“Seeing Teddy in action I felt that he could be a player that comes from a different kind of experience, such as the second division in Belgium, who has a lot of personality and can help the other midfielders to play with more confidence.
“I’m pleased that the players are slowly growing in this project. Today, I was happy to have three players from the 1999 bracket to come into the pitch and do a very good job. We also had a 2001 player who came on with very good personality and was key in our third goal.
“There are good signs coming from our young players which bodes well for the future of this team.”