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U-21 coach Agius hails team commitment ahead of Spain showdown

The Malta U-21 players celebrate after scoring against Slovakia on Friday.

Following a tough round of fixtures, Malta will end their commitments in the UEFA European U21 Championship Group C on Tuesday when they face Spain away from home (kick-off: 20.00).

Malta head to Melilla for the clash on the back of a 3-1 loss to Slovakia on Friday. After suffering the killer blow in injury time, Under-21 coach Gilbert Agius feels the final result had been harsh on his players, saying that the performance was there, players had been disciplined and they had performed in alignment with instructions during training in the days preceding the match.

Turning towards the Spain match, Agius acknowledged that the affairs of the Slovakia game had injected more resolve to avoid such situations.

“Spain on Tuesday will be very tough, they are top of the group, already qualified to the next final phase of European Championship. They have just netted six last week, mauling Northern Ireland away from home, so we are fully aware of our opponents,” Agius said.

“However, the way we lost and how proceeds evolved over the 90 minutes on Friday filled my players with more energy to perform once again at their very best, avoid mistakes, stay compact and disciplined, give our opponents no space to move freely with the ball in their feet, also take full advantage of our possession and transition play.”

The side will be missing Aleandro Garzia, suspended from the last match. He will be replaced in the squad by Karl Mohnani.

Malta attained six points in total thus far in the competition and scored nine goals (two goals each for Ayrton Attard and Mattia Veselji, one each for Jamie Sixsmith, Jake Engerer, Marcus Grima, Andrea Zammit and Joseph Zammit).

Away from the placing in the group standings, coach Agius admits his priority was to create players who are ready for the senior team.

“From day one since taking my role, my number one objective has been to nurture and develop this crop of players to make the step up and be in the reckoning and ready for the senior side,” he explained.

“I truly believe there are few who are now closer of making the step if they maintain this attitude, continue growing in personality, and strive further with their desire and commitment.

“Throughout these 18 months together, we’ve witnessed plenty of improvement.

“Together with rest of my staff, I have noticed that these players are willing to further construe our pathways and what is required by them in this unified game philosophy we are trying to implement, hasn’t been easy for some of them to adapt to this complete overhaul in the style of play.

“Nonetheless we’ve noticed progress. The period together has been short so we are really grateful that as coaches, we have managed to transmit this new philosophy driven forward by the Technical Center.

“We are pleased to note that some of these players in current squad could have the opportunity to work with us again as they are still eligible for next competition, therefore it’s our duty to keep working closely with them, set out higher standards and reach our ultimate targets,” Agius said.

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