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National team must regroup after Slovenia reality check

Malta wingback Cain Attard charges forward against Slovenia. Photo: Wally Galea

After the euphoric 3-0 victory over Cyprus and the solid performance against Euro 2020 participants Russia, there was a lot of hope for Malta to stage a strong display against Slovenia.

After all, Slovenia needed a penalty to defeat Malta in the first meeting between the two countries in Maribor.

However, Malta succumbed to a 4-0 defeat which resulted in the biggest loss under the guidance of Italian coach Devis Mangia.

Most probably, such a defeat arrived against an unexpected opponent given that Malta has drawn Croatia and Russia in their World Cup qualification group.

In the build-up to this game, a lot was said about Malta having a good chance to record its second victory in this group against a team that on paper is not considered as a powerhouse.

Yet, Malta coach Mangia had issued a stern warning about underestimating Slovenia, who are ranked 64th in the world whereas his team sits 171st in the FIFA rankings.

Slovenia’s team includes one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Jan Oblak, of Atletico Madrid, and Atalanta’s star Josip Ilicic.

The Atalanta creative midfielder, who played under Mangia at Palermo, was singled out by the Malta coach as the main source of danger and his former player in Sicily did in fact deliver for his nation with a brace and a classy performance.

“I think that in trying o maintain the balance in such an encounter and trying to match our opponents, we did a lot of technical mistakes,” Mangia said in a news conference.

“At the same time, there was an extraterrestrial on the pitch in Josip Ilicic, who masterminded Slovenia’s threats on the field.”

The Italian tactician was disappointed for the fact that after the second goal, Malta’s performance declined and there was no real sign of a potential fightback to get back into the game.

“After the interval, the game changed as we conceded the second goal and then we continued to make mistakes,” Mangia said.

Nonetheless, the Italian coach can still take positives from this game, in particular from the opening 45 minutes where Malta had created a couple of good goal scoring opportunities that were squandered by Cain Attard and Luke Montebello.

“In general, we did not play a good game from a technical point of view,” Mangia pointed out.

“We did a lot of technical mistakes and they cost us the game.

“Yet, I feel we did not start so bad because after Slovenia’s goal that was disallowed for offside, we had the first chance through Cain Attard and after they scored their opening goal, Luke Montebello had another chance to level terms.”

It will be important for Malta to put this disappointing performance and result aside and shift their focus on the important clash against Cyprus.

Both teams will be at the back of two home defeats with Cyprus falling to Croatia 3-0 on Friday.

Malta and Cyprus are joint on four points and their upcoming head-to-head fixture is set to be a decider to avoid the wooden spoon.

Prior to this game, Mangia had explained that they do not depend on anyone and it will be important that this mantra remains given that a key player like Joseph Mbong alongside Alexander Satariano will be suspended for this game.

On the other hand, Ryan Camenzuli will return from his one-match ban whereas Mbong and Camenzuli’s understudy, Adam Magri Overend, was handed his national team debut, expanding the pool of wingbacks in the senior national team.

Now it’s time for the national team to step up from the Slovenia collapse and regroup ahead of what will be a ‘World Cup final’ for the side as they look to avoid bottom place in a qualifying campaign for a major tournament for the first time since the 1994 World Cup qualifications.

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