Malta national teams head coach Devis Mangia said that he is curious about how his players will be able to cope to play their third match in the space of a week when they take on group favourites Croatia in Rijeka on Tuesday night (kick-off: 20.45).
The national team has caught the imagination of all Maltese fans in the last few days following their vibrant performances against Russia (1-3) and even more so against Slovakia last Saturday when the team managed to pick up their first point in the Group H following a 2-2 draw in Trnava.
It’s no surprise that expectations are high among the Maltese fans for today’s match against the 2018 World Cup finalists but Mangia made it clear that this was without doubt the toughest test his
players will be facing not only in terms of technique but even more from a physical aspect.
“Without a doubt the match against Croatia is our most difficult game in the group,” Mangia said.
“This is our third game in the space of a week and this is a new situation for us in a competitive scenario so I have a question mark on how we can cope with the situation both from a physical and a mental aspect. As regards the attitude of the players, I’m sure that it will not change from the last two matches.
“In my view, Croatia are the strongest team in the group, despite the fact that some of their top players have decided to retire from the national team after the 2018 World Cup. There are still some excellent players who play in some top teams in Europe so there can’t be any doubt on their strength.”
Asked to highlight Croatia’s biggest strength Mangia said: “Croatia is a team who like Slovakia like to keep possession, but the main difference is that their speed on the ball is far superior to Slovakia. They have more players who are capable to create situations where they have numerical superiority, so we need to be very cautious.
“A lot has been said on the difficulties encountered by Croatia in their opening two matches, but I analysed those matches and they had full control of the game. So, it will be important that we are very smart from a tactical point of view so that we are able to suffer during the game.”
Mangia said that he has no injury worries but has yet to decide his starting XI, even though he hinted that he might no make so many changes from the match against Slovakia.
One huge change that is there to see is the different mentality in the Maltese players who seem unfazed by the strength of their opponents and always try and play attacking football.
Matthew Guillaumier, the Ħamrun Spartans defender, said that Mangia brought this way of thinking with him and the players are determined to keep this mindset for the remaining matches in the group.
“The coach brought this new mindset with him and when he took charge that we knew that we had to change the way we think on the pitch if we are to implement his philosophy,” Guillaumier said.
“Against Slovakia, all the players were disappointed to suffer two-quick goals at the start of the second half but we remained mentally strong and still tried to turn the match around despite the difficult circumstances.
“No doubt, against Slovakia we suffered a lot in the second half but we were not ready to throw in the towel and we kept fighting and that is the spirit we want to continue to show.”
On a personal level, Guillaumier admitted that the arrival of Teddy Teuma has given a new dimension to the team and the Ħamrun midfielder said that he is learning a lot by playing alongside the Royal Union Saint-Gilloise player.
“Teddy Teuma has had a great impact with the national team and we are happy to have him with us,” Guillaumier said.
“He has given us more physical presence in the middle of the park as he is capable of winning a lot of duels when he is not in possession and when he has the ball in his feet he is very calm on the ball and he transmits his tranquility to all the other players on the pitch.
“However, our improvement is not only down to Teddy but all the players in the group who are working very hard every day to try and keep up our level of performance and may this continue for many more months and years.”
10.10.98 Malta vs Croatia 1-4
21.08.99 Croatia vs Malta 2-1
17.11.10 Croatia vs Malta 3-0
02.09.11 Malta vs Croatia 1-3
09.09.14 Croatia vs Malta 2-0
13.10.15 Malta vs Croatia 0-1
29.03.05 Croatia vs Malta 3-0
07.09.05 Malta vs Croatia 1-1
H. Bonello, R. Camenzuli, J. Mbong, A. Agius, S. Borg, K. Shaw, M. Guillaumier, T. Teuma, L. Gambin, B. Kristensen/S. Pisani, A. Satariano.
D. Livaković, J. Juranović, D. Ćaleta-Car, D. Vida, D. Melnjak, M. Kovačić, I. Perišić, N. Vlašić, M. Pašalić, M. Oršić, A. Budimir.
Referee: Lionel Tschudi (Switzerland FA).