Malta coach Devis Mangia hopes the Maltese fans can give an added lift to the national team in tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Cyprus at the National Stadium (kick-off: 8.45pm).
This evening’s match is the first 2022 World Cup qualifier that is being staged at the National Stadium but more importantly is also the first time that Maltese fans will be able to support their national team players since COVID-19 restrictions forced Health Authorities to ban supporters from football stadia for the past 18 months.
While the perception among the public might be that Cyprus is a team that Malta is expected to beat, particularly on the back of the positive showings from Mangia’s players in the last year or so, however, in reality, Cyprus are a far stronger outfit.
One can only look at the results attained by Cyprus last March to see how competitive tonight’s visitors are, as they managed to first hold Slovakia to a goalless draw and then go on and Slovenia 1-0 in front of their fans.
Mangia said that irrespective of what others say, Cyprus are a very good team and the Malta players need to be at their best if they are to get a positive result.
“I am really looking forward to the match as for me is the first time to lead the team in front of our fans since I was given the job of national teams’ head coach and hopefully they can give us an added lift,” Mangia told a news conference.
“This is a very important game as it is the first of our schedule this month and all the players are fully focused on the job ahead.
“We are aware that Cyprus are a very good team and that was mirrored in their performances in the opening three qualifiers. They have a very compact team full of powerful players and also boast good speed in their play.
“Added to that, their players boast good experience at international level, particularly as many of them play abroad and others are on the books of
very important club in Cyprus who have done well in UEFA competitions.
“So, it’s important that we take the field fully focused and ensure we do what we have to do on the pitch.”
Asked on his opinion on the physical condition of his players ahead of this difficult triple-header, that will see the team face away games in Slovenia and Russia, Mangia said: “As regards the players’ physical condition, we will have our answer after the game against Cyprus.
“We know the problems we faced in March when all competitions were stopped in Malta but at least this time we can make five substitutions and that will help me to keep the team fresh and try and manage the team during the three matches.”
The Malta coach said that the only thing he expects from his players is to show a marked improvement in their performance that would rubberstamp all the good work done in the past 18 months.
“I want a good performance and more importantly I hope to see a marked improvement from the players on how they play on the pitch,” the Italian said.
“They are no longer playing with a new football philosophy, but it is now our football idea. This is how the team wants to play and the players know what are our targets for the game. I expect the players to show great personality and try to impose their game throughout the 90 minutes.”
The Malta coach is without a number of regular players for today’s match, namely Matthew Guillaumier, Bjorn Kristensen and Luke Gambin who are all unfit to start.
The Italian admitted that during the past few days, the players worked on all areas of the game to ensure every member of the squad is aware of their task on the pitch.
“Obviously, having a number of ‘new’ players, if you can call them so, it was important to revise a bit our style of play,” Mangia said.
“Having some players that were not with us in June for the training camp, it was important to refresh our idea of football to everybody and we touched all aspects from when having the ball to not having the ball, set pieces etc.
“I have a lot of faith in this group of players and hopefully we can get a result.”
Also present for the press conference was Birkirkara striker Luke Montebello who said he had no doubt that the fans present will provide to the players that ‘extra push’ to try and get the result everyone wants.
“This is the match we have been focused on in the past few days and we feel that we are ready for it and can get the result we want,” the Birkirkara striker said.
“After so many months away from our matches, I am sure that the fans will be excited and determined to show all their passion and support to the team throughout the 90 minutes and hopefully it will be a great night for everyone.”
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