Devis Mangia’s first qualification campaign as coach of the Malta national team will come to conclusion on Sunday afternoon when his team host Slovakia in the final qualifier of 2022 World Cup at the National Stadium (kick-off: 3pm).
Malta are on the back of a heavy 7-1 defeat against 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia which adds to the importance of the Slovakia fixture.
For Mangia and his team, it is fundamental to try and end this campaign with an improved performance after the recent displays against Slovenia (0-4), Cyprus (2-2) and Croatia were not up to the recent standard shown by the Maltese team.
In addition, there is still a lot at stake for Malta in this qualifying group as they are one point shy from setting a new record of points at men’s senior level.
Moreover, Malta can avoid the wooden spoon for the first time since the 1994 World Cup qualifications while a positive result against Slovakia would mean gaining points at the expense of a team that sits 40th in the FIFA rankings.
Italian coach Mangia has underlined the importance of putting the Croatia game aside and remains focused on what they control to stage a good performance and be competitive against the Slovakian team.
“We have to forget the Croatia game and I think that we have already did that as we can manage only what is under our control,” Mangia told a news conference.
“We are already focused on the Slovakia game even though I don’t want to put any pressure on the players.”
Mangia is aware that the Maltese national team can set a new record of points in these qualifiers but he explained that when you are in a process of transition and development, you have to be cautious and wary in your approach.
Turning the page from the Croatia game is important not only for the players, but also for the supporters who received glowing praise from Mangia, in particular the South End Core, for their constant support.
However, he did not appreciate the jeers towards some of his players which Mangia feels were unfair.
“I will stay behind the players because I believe in them but at the same time I cannot oblige the general public to do the same because if they feel the need to have their say and their opinion, they have the right to do so,” Mangia explained.
“Obviously, while they can criticise and maybe whistle during the game because of the performance, I don’t appreciate the ironic remarks towards the players.
“We cannot forget that these players have had very good performances recently, setting records in the process and therefore we have to consider everything when criticising.”
Some of the remarks where directed towards Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello who unfortunately has been at the receiving end of the 13 goals conceded in the last three games.
However, the Ħamrun Spartans player is one of the goalkeepers with most dribbles according to a statistic published by Whoscored, which puts him ahead of notable players like Thomas Muller and Karim Benzema.
Bonello’s dribbles do not come as a surprise as he is often involved in the build-up phase which sometimes forces him to move past an opponent and avoid losing the ball inside his own penalty area.
“Regarding my dribbling, the coach might not really be happy about it,” Bonello said jokingly.
“When it comes to the build-up phase, though, I am pretty much involved more than ever and I am happy that I can help the team to try and maintain more possession while being more organised on the field.”
For this game, the only player not available for selection will be defender Enrico Pepe who will have to serve a one-game ban after his yellow card against Croatia.
At the same time, one player who can give Mangia’s team a helping hand is forward Alexander Satariano who was one of the scorers in the 2-2 draw in Trnava, in the first round fixture.
The former Sliema Wanderers player is currently on the books of Serie B side Frosinone, even though he made one cameo appearance back in August in a 2-0 win away at Vicenza as he became the first Maltese player to set foot in Italy’s second-tier.
Asked about the development of the player since seeking pastures new in Italy, Mangia said that Satariano has been training well and that he has improved from both physical and technical point of view.
30.03.94 Malta vs Slovakia 1-2
16.08.94 Slovakia vs Malta 1-1
15.08.06 Slovakia vs Malta 3-0
04.09.14 Slovakia vs Malta 1-0
22.09.96 Slovakia vs Malta 6-0
31.03.97 Malta vs Slovakia 0-2
26.03.17 Malta vs Slovakia 1-3
08.10.17 Slovakia vs Malta 3-0
27.03.21 Slovakia vs Malta 2-2
Note: The Malta Football Association announced that match tickets will be sold at an information point at the West C Stand.