Buoyed by Wednesday’s impressive 3-0 win over Cyprus, the national team is bracing itself for another tough test when Malta face Slovenia in a Group H match in Ljubljana on Saturday evening (kick-off: 18.00).
Two goals from Cain Attard and another from Joseph Mbong handed Malta its first ever victory in a World Cup qualifier on home soil and lifted the team on the four-point mark level, and within touching distance from its record haul of five points attained during the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
However, Malta coach Devis Mangia is trying to keep the team’s feet rooted firmly on the ground and warned that
Slovenia will be a far tougher opposition than Cyprus and expects the team to take the pitch fully focused and with a good attitude.
“It’s clear that when you come from a result like that of Wednesday there is always going to be a lot of enthusiasm and I’m not surprised as the performance of the team was very very good,” the Italian coach said.
“However, the match against Slovenia is a completely different kettle of fish as they are a very strong side and what I expect from my boys is to be fully focused and take the pitch with the right attitude, something that I have no doubt they will do. But it’s clear that we will try to do our best.”
In football there is a saying “never change a winning team” but Mangia admitted that given the different characteristics of Slovenia, he is tempted to make some changes to the starting formation.
“First of all, I have a clean bill of health, and that is very positive,” Mangia said.
“The players are still recovering from Wednesday’s match and the players have been training well so we have to make some decisions on who will play.
“The players that featured on Wednesday have done very well but there are other players that I think that also deserve to play so we will see.
“I emphasise this will be a completely different game so we could make some changes to ensure we will have the right personnel to face Slovenia.”
Mangia said that Slovenia are a very technical team who are very good with the ball and in keeping control of proceedings so he believes it’s important that the players remain focused throughout.
“Slovenia are a team that are blessed with a lot of players who are very good from a technical point of view and they like to keep control of the game and surely we are aware of that and working on it,” the former Italy U-21 coach said.
“Patience will be the key for us, particularly when we have the ball in our feet. To be fair, I was pleased with how we approached the match against Cyprus in this sense as we analysed well when to push forward and we need to do the same against Slovenia.”
Against Cyprus, Malta’s struggles were once more in set-piece situations with the Cypriots’ best chances coming again from corner or free-kicks and Mangia admitted that it is one area they are continuously working on.
“We know that defending set pieces is one area we find some difficulties in sometimes but we are continuously trying to work on it and improve,” Mangia said.
“Slovenia are very strong in the air so we need to be disciplined and ensure that we are well covered in these situations or else they will punish us.”
Also present for the press conference was Birkirkara defender Attard who was the protagonist with his brace of goals against Cyprus.
“We are aware that this is going to be a different game than the one against Cyprus,” the Birkirkara wing back said.
“They are a very physical side and more importantly, their players have a lot of experience on the international scene so we are expecting a very tough match. But the spirit within our camp is very good and hopefully, we can carry the momentum from the win against Cyprus and gain another positive result.”
For Attard, season 2021-22 has been very positive so far as he enjoyed a very impressive start for his club Birkirkara both in the Premier League as well as in the UEFA Conference League qualifiers.
Attard said that he had worked a lot to put his name in contention with the national team and he is delighted that all his sacrifices paid off.
“Since Devis Mangia took charge of the team, he instilled a new mentality and it is mirrored in the feel-good factor that exists within the team,” he said.
“At the moment there is a lot of competition to break into the team but I’ve worked hard for this and I am pleased to be finally showing my worth. Now I am looking forward to the future and hopefully I can continue to establish myself in the team.”
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