For the second consecutive time, Malta will head into the final game of its UEFA Nations League campaign with promotion to League C on the line.
After the dramatic defeat at the hands of Estonia, Malta were desperate to bounce back and pick up a win to keep their aspirations of a historic promotion alive.
Against 211th-ranked San Marino, Malta put on a commanding showing with a total of 24 attempts at goal to San Marino’s five after registering a 70% of possession.
However, Devis Mangia’s side had to survive a huge scare at the death in a deja-vu of what happened against the Estonian team, last Thursday.
San Marino’s big chance infuriated Malta coach Mangia who wants his team to make the most of the chances they create and ensure they avoid compromising all the good work done by the team.
“From all these three games, I did not like the first half against San Marino, the last minute against Estonia and the last 30 seconds against San Marino,” Mangia said.
“Such situations are a problem for us because they can compromise our games.
“At the same time, the coach has to be happy when his team is creating chances to score.”
Despite all this, Mangia has managed to steer Malta to another decisive finale in this competition.
In the previous edition, Malta missed the chance to make it into League C after a home 1-1 draw against the Faroe Islands which handed the Nordics promotion to League C.
This was Malta’s 14th positive result in 26 games under the helm of the Italian tactician. A statistic that Mangia is proud of and is keen to improve in the coming games as well.
“I like the UEFA Nations League’s format because it allows teams like us to measure ourselves with nations of our level and it helps us to improve as well,” the former Italy U-21 coach said.
“I don’t like to speak about statistics but I know them, obviously. This was the 14th positive result in 26 games and therefore we also improved our positions in the FIFA rankings.
“I believe in my style of football and until I am here, I will not negotiate my ideas. If you don’t make mistakes, it means that you are not risking so our aim has to reduce the mistakes through playing this type of game.”
Asked about what improvements are needed for Malta to ensure themselves a positive result against Estonia, Mangia pointed out once again to the technical mistakes.
“First of all, we have to reduce the technical mistakes because in that way we control the game better,” Mangia said.
“Moreover, I would like to say that I am not a fan of the June international window because players are tired at the end of a long season, even though Estonia would prefer it since they would be in the middle of their season.
“Nonetheless, for me a season should end following the final of the UEFA Champions League.”
Zach Muscat, who scored his third international goal for Malta, believes that they need to keep the concentration levels high for the whole game if they want to have a chance against Estonia.
“We have a lot to analyse from these three games and we have to improve from our technical mistakes while staying concentrated for all the 90 minutes, 100 minutes that we play,” Muscat said.
“Playing in September means that we will be in a different physical condition so we have to make sure that we prepare ourselves through our club’s training regime before joining the national team.
“The fate of this group is in our hands, we know what we need.”
San Marino coach Fabrizio Costantini was left to rue his team’s failure to capitalise on a huge scoring opportunity which saw the team scupper a three against two situation with the goal at their mercy as they now have failed to score in their last 12 international games.
“That is a chance that frustrates you, of course,” Costantini told a news conference after the game.
“Obviously, we did suffer in a lot of situations such as in aerial duels or physical challenges, but we knew that if we could stay in the game, we would have the opportunity to level terms.
“In fact, we had a goalscoring opportunity which was exactly the same like Estonia had against Malta. Unfortunately, they scored, and we did not.”