Malta national teams’ coach Devis Mangia has warned his players that they need to be at their best if they are to gain a positive result when they face Slovenia in a World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium tonight (kick-off: 20.45).
Malta and Slovenia face each other for the second time in less than a month after the Slovenians just managed to eke out a 1-0 win over the Maltese in Ljubljana, courtesy of a highly-disputed penalty.
That bright performance from the Maltese players have raised optimism among the Maltese fans that the team could pick up some points against the Slovenians who are seeing their hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup in Qatar fading fast. They are currently trailing front-runners Croatia and Russia by six points.
But Mangia tried to play down any talk that Slovenia will be easy opponents.
“I surely cannot agree with anyone who suggests that Slovenia are not a good side on the back of their performance against Malta last month,” the Italian coach said.
“If one team in a match does everything well and the other commits a mistake, the first has a good chance of getting a good result.
“I don’t agree that Slovenia are not a very good team. All their players play in a top club and big championships so their quality cannot be questioned.
“Maybe in the first game in Ljubljana the difference between the two teams may not have been so evident as we had a very good performance. But our hopes of creating an opportunity to win points against Slovenia rest on the team putting in a very good display.”
Tonight the Slovenians will be boosted by the return from suspension of midfielder Josip Ilicic who was banned from the first match against Ljubljana.
Mangia knows too well on the qualities of the Atalanta midfielder as he trained him during his spell as coach of Palermo.
“I know very well what a good player Josip Ilicic is,” Mangia said with a smile.
“He is, without doubt, a player that can make a difference but he is not the only good player they have. Certainly irrespective of the players that we will face we will not change our philosophy and we will try to play our game and express our idea of football.
“My main focus will again be on our performance and hope that we can make the next step following our bright showings in September.
“I don’t want to put any expectations of results on my team, it’s not the right time, particularly if we want to build something with these players.”
The Malta coach stressed that the transition play of both teams will be decisive on who will prevail tonight.
“Transitions are a key element of the game and I think that on Friday the team that performs better in this area could have a big advantage,” the former Italy U-21 coach said.
“Slovenia is a team that likes to keep the ball a lot and even our team also focuses a lot on possession so I guess the match may well be decided on which team will work better when they don’t have the ball at their feet.”
The Malta coach revealed that James Brown has been ruled out of both today’s match against Slovenia as well as the game against Cyprus as he failed to recover from a hamstring injury he suffered with his club St Johnstone.
Mangia said that they did everything they could to recover the player but Brown didn’t feel comfortable enough to play and therefore he decided to leave him out of the final squad for the upcoming matches.
Added to that Mangia will have to do without Ryan Camenzuli who must serve a one-match ban.
Also present for yesterday’s news conference was Steve Pisani, the Gżira United midfielder, who starred for the national team in last month’s qualifiers against Cyprus, Slovenia and Russia.
“We feel that we are well prepared for these matches,” the Gżira United midfielder said.
“The spirit that exists in the dressing room at the moment is very good and our real strength is the unity between the players. Our full focus is on the game against Slovenia and once that passes we will start thinking of Cyprus.”
Asked how he feels now that he is starting to establish himself in the national team, Pisani said: “To play for the national team is the dream of every player and it’s no different for me.
“I think the biggest difference for us that us so confident on the pitch is the fact that we are well prepared for every situation during the match.
“That is why we feel so comfortable with the ball at our feet as we always know what the right solution during each moment of the match is.”
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