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Watch: Premier League has to continue if national team is to remain competitive, says Mangia

Malta's goalscorer Joseph Mbong charges forward against Russia. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Devis Mangia has made it clear that football in Malta has to resume if the country intends to build on the progress shown so far by national the team at international level.

The national teams head coach expressed his concerns on the stoppage of football on our shores in the aftermath of the national teams undeserved 3-1 defeat to Russia in the opening 2022 World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium.

Earlier this month, the government and the Public Health issued a Legal Notice that banned all organised sport until April, that meant that the Premier League and the Challenge League had to stop amid new restrictions aimed at halting the rise of COVID-19 cases in Malta.

“We cannot be the only country in Europe that has its senior league halted right now,” Mangia said during the post-game press conference.

“If the players do not resume their club football, what can I ask them more than they already do, particularly from a physical point of view?

“Obviously, health is a priority issue right now but if other countries are managing to negotiate with the problem and keep going with their football competitions, Malta has the capabilities to do the same with the required protocols.”

Sports in Malta, including football activity, was suspended back in March 10 with Balzan vs Żejtun Corinthians, played on the same day, being the last game of the 2020-21 season that was completed so far.

A decline in the physical aspect could have led the Maltese players to be less concentrated in the final minutes of the game when they handed on a silver plate the third goal for Russia.

“From a physical point of view, it is not easy to face the challenge that brings Russia to the table,” the Italian coach said.

“That is why our league must continue, because otherwise it would be impossible for the players to cope at this level.

“Imagine wrapping up the season in March, the players will be absent from the playing field for at least another four months and when we resume our qualifiers come September, it will be impossible to prepare in the best possible way for those games.”

The third goal, scored by substitute Aleksandr Sobolev a minute from time frustrated Mangia as in his words, it didn’t do justice for his players’ performance throughout the 90 minutes.

“I am pleased with the display, in particular during the second half where for majority of it we showed our character, imposed our game and created chances,” the former Palermo coach explained.

“This is a building process for us where we will meet teams like Russia, who were quarter-finalists in the 2018 World Cup and are in the Euro 2020 tournament – let us not forget that.

Nonetheless, we still had more shots on target than them, our possession stat is positive as well and these are encouraging signs for us.”

Russian media criticised Stanislav Cherchesov’s team for their lacklustre performance, heaping praise on the Maltese players for their efforts and for pegging Russia into their own half at times.

The second-half introduction of Paul Mbong and Alex Satariano provided further mobility upfront that was giving the Russian backline a hard time and Malta’s superiority was rewarded with a stunning striker from Joseph Mbong.

For all the box-entries and chances created by the Maltese, Mangia would have liked to capitalise on more than one chance – maybe hence his eagerness to bring a prolific striker like Mario Fontanella into the team.

“In the opening 35 minutes of the second half, we looked mentally free and were playing with personality,” Mangia underlined.

“I feel that we would have deserved a point from this game, or at least avoided the third goal.”

Up next for Malta will be a trip to Trnava to take on Slovakia who left Cyprus with a disappointing stalemate in their qualification campaign opener, meaning that Malta and Croatia are currently bottom of the group after the Croats surprisingly lost 1-0 to Slovenia.

“We cannot control the results of the other teams, of course,” coach Mangia said.

“However, we can control our campaign and we may not be obliged to achieve victories, but we have the responsibility to put up solid displays every time while giving further playing time to young players to showcase themselves at this stage.”

All in all, this was a heartening showing from which the Maltese players can learn a lot including the one thing that Mangia seems to have finally instilled in this group of players – we are ready to attack.

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