Former Birkirkara coach Drazen Besek believes that Malta stand no chance of gaining a result against Croatia in Tuesdays World Cup qualifier in Rijeka.
Besek was at the helm of the Stripes in season 2015-16 and under his charge he helped the Stripes reaching the third qualifying round of the Europa League after they managed to knock out Siroki Brijeg, of Bosnia, and Scottish giants Hearts before being knocked out by Russian side Krasnodar.
Besek, who is currently working in China with Shanghai Shenhua youth team, had few warm words for Devis Mangia’s team ahead of Wednesday’s match.
“I have a lot of friends in Malta, they are nice people, but the national team has no chance against Croatia,” Besek told sportske.jutarni.hr.
“Vatreni (Croatia’s nickname) and Malta are two complete qualitative opposites. I know that football has long been in the development phase when everyone is playing, when everyone is ready, but the difference between Croatia and Malta is immeasurable.”
Besek went on to try and explain the difference in quality between the two countries by recalling how Maltese player tried to pursue their career in the Italian Serie C championships during his time in Malta five or six years ago.
“They had an Italian coach (Pietro Ghedin) then, and the players also wanted to try out in Italy. However, the ceiling was Serie C,” Besek said.
“Even in that rank, few could even get a chance. I don’t believe that any of the Maltese national team players could play in the Croatian National League because the mentality is different. Maltese players still do not perceive football as a professional occupation.”
Besek said that if one tried to compare Croatian players with their Maltese counterparts would not be realistic.
“If you ask me, for example, who are the most dangerous players in Malta, I would be very unserious to go and answer that question seriously,” Besek said.
“To start talking about how Dejan Lovren should pay special attention to Luke Montebello or Luke Gambin would be really funny. Exactly, because, the difference is huge, out of respect for our national team, such comparisons cannot be made.”
Malta head into the match against Croatia on the back of an eye-catching performance which saw them surprise Slovakia and earned them a 2-2 draw. But that doesn not have any effect on Besek’s thoughts on the match.
“I respect their result in Slovakia, especially the fact that they scored two goals, but in the match against Croatia it is only a question of when we will score the first goal,” Besek said.
“Malta will defend, they will be in the defensive bloc, and Croatia must continue to put pressure.
“Malta will have a defensive block but building the game will be a problem for them. Putting it simply, they do not have players who would meet the higher criteria of modern football.”
Last Saturday, Croatia limped to a 1-0 win over Cyprus in Rijeka and said that Malta will have a similar approach to their Mediterranean counterparts.
“Malta will have a similar approach, play with five in the backline, double flanks and a solid defensive guard,” Besek said.
“However, in my opinion the Maltese are weaker than Cyprus. If the Croatian forward line quickly opened their defensive block, scoring an early goal, they could fix the goal difference.
“Clearly, on the other hand, if they are struggling in breaching their defensive wall, then one needs to be patient until a goal is scored. Ultimately, it all depends on our attitude.
“The match is completely in our hands.”