Malta Under 21 coach Gilbert Agius is hopeful his players will bounce back from their disappointing showing against Russia when his team take on Lithuania in UEFA Championship Group C qualifier in Alytus this afternoon (kick-off: 5.30pm).
The Malta youngsters opened their campaign with an impressive 4-1 win over Northern Ireland but four days later were brought back down on earth with a bang after suffering a 6-0 thrashing in Russia.
“Our goal has to be show that we are a better team than the one that played against Russia,” Agius said.
“We were pleased with the way things unfolded against Northern Ireland, by contrast utterly disappointed with how things evolved in Russia. Therefore we are determined to bounce back strongly and perform better against Lithuania,” Agius said.
The Malta U-21 coach lauded the attitude and discipline of his players since they convened at the Ta’ Qali training grounds ten days ago.
“The boys have been professional as we have been working on this unified game philosophy we are implementing in all categories at national team level,” Agius said.
“For most of the players this is the third time they are part of this group and we can notice they are absorbing this idea of football we want to adopt during football matches.
“In every call-up we have new faces, initially we summoned 10 new players in our original squad two weeks ago, six of them made the cut to be in this final squad for these two matches here in Lithuania and in five days’ time in Slovakia.”
Agius also referred to the lack of playing minutes these youngsters have at club level.
“Some of these players do play regularly at club level albeit in the lower tiers, ideally we have more players in this group who are in action week in week out in the top division,” Agius said.
“However we understand the increase in foreigners makes it far more difficult for the boys who know they have to step up and be more resilient as competition at club level is very fierce as they are competing with established Maltese players.
“On the other hand I keep regular contact with coaches at club level, I know pretty well we possess talented players out there regardless of age and experience, if they perform well they will surely get the opportunity.
“Now it’s up to them to seize their chance also by absorbing all instructions passed to them by their coaches and more importantly show what they are capable of doing the job on the pitch.”
Agius said that he was delighted with the rapid improvement of Adam Magri Overend.
“The boy is so skilful and talented, that is our ultimate aim to propel more young players towards the senior team,” Agius said.
“Adam seized his opportunity and is also doing very well and playing regularly at club level. I’m sure this decision undertaken by Mangia and his staff to promote Adam will instil more hunger in my players to perform at their very best and try to follow in his footsteps.
“I repeat there is no age or experience, if you’re driven for success the chance will surely come at an early stage to represent your country with the national team.
“Results are important but our ultimate aim is to help this crop of youngsters to further improve both individually, tactically and also the footballing philosophy we are vying to adapt.”