The heavy scorelines of the past came back to haunt the Malta national team after the 7-1 defeat at the hands of 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia, on Thursday.
The six-goal deficit defeat followed last month’s 4-0 stumble against Slovenia which marred the Maltese progress in these qualifications.
The Croatia performance has fuelled further disappointment in the general public, in particular due to the technical mistakes and the attitude shown which led to majority of the goals.
It was the first time Malta conceded seven goals on home soil since the 2006 World Cup qualifier against Sweden (0-7) in 2004.
The Malta national team had recently fell to a similar defeat when they conceded seven against Spain in the Euro 2020 qualifications.
Such results are something that the Maltese fans do endure from time to time. However, Italian coach Mangia does not believe that such a scoreline has to cancel what has been done so far.
“I stand behind my players and I will not throw away two years of work,” Mangia told a news conference after the game.
“Everyone can do what they want but I will stand behind the team and who wants to stay and help us recover to start, can stay while who wants to create damage, can leave.”
While at first glance this message might seem to be referring to his own group of players, coach Mangia was speaking about boos coming from a section of the home fans which irritated the Italian and frustrated some of his players as well.
“At this point, we cannot manage this game and therefore we have to look forward,” the former Serie A coach explained.
“What is for sure, that the players are giving their utmost. This is a group of really good guys and and they deserve to be encouraged.
“At the same time, I take the opportunity to thank the players, in particular those who might have been playing through injuries but made themselves available for this international window.”
At the end of the first half, Malta was already losing 4-1 but ironically, the Maltese were losing by just one goal five minutes before half-time as Marcelo Brozovic guided the ball into his own net.
“When the result was just 2-1 in the 40th minute, I was not thinking that the game could have finished with this result,” Mangia said.
“One the problems that may have led to such defeat was not the technical mistakes but rather the fact that we did not make things simple in certain situations.”
The former Italy U-21’s coach said that the team could have had a better organisation on the field but this result is now in the past and it is imperative for them to shift their focus on the Slovakia game.
For Mangia, this project is still heading in the right direction despite losing heavily but at the same time admits that although he often said that they did not have pressure as a team, it might not have been the case and that could have been a factor in recent performances.
At this point of the campaign, it might be true that the Maltese side do not have any type of pressure but Mangia’s boys still have something at stake to play for.
Firstly, although the seven goals conceded against Croatia has now made Malta’s defensive record the worst in its qualifying group, Mangia’s team is still penultimate as they have a -15 goal difference whereas Cyprus’ record is of -16.
At the same time, they are still one point away from securing a new record of points for the men’s national team at senior level.
Mangia believes that this group of players are doing a good job and that their philosophy is paying dividends.
The last three games might not be in sync with Mangia’s beliefs and therefore the Slovakia provides a good opportunity for the boys in red to regroup, reset and end this campaign on a high.