Malta national teams head coach Devis Mangia is urging his players to be patient and lucid as they look to kickstart their UEFA Nations League Group D2 campaign with victory over San Marino at Serravalle on Sunday afternoon (kick-off: 3pm).
There is a huge sense of expectation among Maltese fans ahead of the start of the new campaign as there is belief that the national team, who has shown remarkable improvement since Mangia took over the team, have what it takes to win promotion to League C.
Grouped in a three-team section that also involves Estonia, victory over San Marino will no doubt give the team a much-needed fillip to their aspirations ahead of Thursday’s crucial match against the Estonians.
On paper, Malta start as clear favourites for the three points against a San Marino side who are ranked in the bottom rungs of world football and have struggled for positive results on the international scene.
But Malta coach Mangia is not giving too much importance on his opponents’ track record and said that his players need to be at their best if they are to do the job at Serravalle.
“Our approach is quite simple,” Mangia told the Times of Malta.
“We are taking the pitch to try and play our game and I believe that if we are capable of showing our best qualities, we have every possibility to take all three points.
“A lot has been said of San Marino, but what I can say is that the team has gone through some coaching changes in the last months and if you look at their play they are showing signs of improvement.
“In fact, in the last three matches, they always remained in the match until the closing stages, including in the group opener against Estonia where they lost 2-0. But we know well their qualities and are confident that we have the talent to return home with the three points in the bag.”
For Sunday’s match, the Malta coach is forced to make two changes as wing back Ryan Camenzuli and midfielder Teddy Teuma are both out with a one-match ban.
Mangia is likely to turn to James Brown, who is on the books of Scottish side St Johnstone, and midfielder Matias Garcia, who both made their debut with the Malta national team during Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to Venezuela at the National Stadium.
On Sunday afternoon, the national team is likely to face a similar scenario they faced in the previous edition of the UEFA Nations League as San Marino are likely to adopt the same defensive approach Andorra had taken against Malta in La Vella.
During that match, the Maltese players struggled to break down the Andorran defence to return home with a frustrating goalless draw
“Being patient will be key against San Marino,” Mangia said.
“It’s true we had faced a similar scenario against Andorra where we struggled badly. But since then the team has improved a lot and I believe that we have good characteristics in our team to create openings.
“If we play the way we know I am sure that we will create a lot of chances to score goals so it’s up to us.”
The Malta coach sounded more concerned with the kick-off time of the match, 3pm, which will inevitably leave the teams playing in very hot conditions.
“Personally, UEFA’s decision to play the match at 3pm at this time of the year was not a very clever one,” Mangia said.
“It would have been better if we played late in the afternoon. Playing in such hot conditions will inevitably make it harder from a physical point of view for that team that will try to play the game and create scoring chances
“But we cannot do anything about it. We just need to get on with it and try and make sure it doesn’t effect much our approach.”
Goalkeepers: Henry Bonello (Ħamrun Spartans), Cain Formosa (San Ġwann), Jake Galea (Balzan)
Defenders: Ferdinando Apap (Hibernians FC), Jean Borg (Valletta FC), Steve Borg (Ħamrun Spartans FC), James Brown (St Johnstone FC), Karl Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Zach Muscat (Casa Pia), Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara).
Midfielders: Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana FC), Juan Carlos Corbalan (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Matias Garcia (Floriana), Matthew Guillaumier (A.C. Siena), Adam Magri Overend (Floriana), Joseph Mbong (Ħamrun Spartans), Nikolai Muscat (Gżira United), Brandon Paiber (Floriana FC), Teddy Teuma (R.U. Saint Gilloise), Dunstan Vella (Hibs).
Forwards: Jan Busuttil (Floriana), Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians), Luke Gambin (Ħamrun Spartans), Paul Mbong (Birkir-kara), Luke Montebello (Birkirkara), Alexander Satariano (U.S. Pergolettese).