Malta national teams head coach Devis Mangia has made it clear that it’s time for his technical staff to sit down and make a serious evaluation on the future of the national team after Malta missed out on an historic promotion in the UEFA Nations League following a 2-1 defeat to Estonia in Tallinn on Friday night.
The match at the Le Coq Arena in Tallinn has once more exposed the current limitations of our national team as for the umpteenth time our players failed to deliver their best performance in a decisive clash that could push them to a higher level in international football.
Two years ago, Malta were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw against the Faroe Islands at the National Stadium to end up finishing as runners-up in League D.
This time around, the team needed to beat the Estonians by a two-goal margin to secure top spot in League D2 but their hopes of a famous victory were jolted by a ragged display in the first half which saw the team struggle to match the pace and power of the Estonians
The Estonians, who had two goals annulled by VAR during the opening 45 minutes, then deservedly took the lead through Sappinen’s penalty conversion just before the half-time break with the Maltese facing a mountain to climb as they had to face the second half with a player less after Jean Borg was shown a straight red card for a serious foul play in the action that led to the penalty.
Mangia admitted that the first half had laid bare the huge difference between the two teams’ physical condition.
“In the first half, we had three or four potential scoring opportunities which we failed to make the most of,” the Italian tactician said.
“If you analyse well there were three or four situations when our forwards found themselves in a one-on-one situation against their defenders. We start the action at an advantage but in the end our players fail to win the ball and the chance goes abegging.
“That was a clear example of what I had said about the huge difference in the physical aspect between the two teams. The Estonians were much stronger physically as in those situations they managed to recover the ball. They had a different kind of power.
“Then towards the end of the half, we had a couple of opportunities but made a mistake in the final pass, the Estonians recovered the ball and effected a strong transition from which they won a penalty and the red card call, which clearly had a decisive effect on the rest of the match.
“In the second half we made some tactical adjustments and despite being a man down, the team played much better but our hopes of getting a positive result were put paid by another individual mistake from which we conceded a second goal.
“But if we had to be honest, we compromised our hopes of promotion in the first match in Malta in June as technical mistakes in the final part of the game cost us dear.”
Mangia said that he will now set his sights on Tuesday’s friendly against Israel at the National Stadium but after that he will sit down with his technical staff and make a clear evaluation of the steps to be taken to help the national team continue its development.
“My immediate focus is the match against Israel on Tuesday,” the Malta national teams head coach said.
“But after the friendly I will sit down my technical staff and we will make a serious evaluation of our technical project. Our main target has to be the next edition of the UEFA Nations League. Before we will have the Euro 2024 qualifiers where we will try and win as many points as possible.
“We have to be realistic that our team do not have a chance to qualify for the Euros so we will use that campaign to bring in some young players and give them some much-needed experience at international level in preparation for the next Nations League where the goal has to be to finally win promotion.
“Besides, next year our U-19 selection will have a very difficult challenge when they play in the European Championship finals and then after that appointment, there will be some members of that team that will move straight to the U-21 squad where they will have more opportunities to continue to grow with a view of being given a chance to stake a claim for thesenior national team set-up.”
Mangia said that it is clear that his technical staff is facing a dearth of options in some key areas on the pitch, particularly in the striker role.
“The reality is that when it comes to choosing our forward line we don’t have many options at the moment,” Mangia said.
“Last season, Alex Satariano played more for the national team than at his club. Now he has moved to Balzan where he is starting to play more, which is really beneficial for us. But I don’t have much options in that area.
“We have Luke Montebello who is not playing as a central striker for his club while there is also the option of Jurgen Degabriele, who while he is a good option, you lose a bit from a physical structure as he suffers when it comes to defend a set-piece situation.
“So we need to continue working and try and nurture young players but you need time as this is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.”
On Friday, Jodi Jones was handed his full debut for Malta but the Oxford United forward had a quiet night and was eventually replaced at the start of the second half.
“Jodi Jones only had three training sessions with us and to be honest we didn’t have a clear evaluation of his physical condition,” Mangia said.
“Unfortunately, during the last two seasons he didn’t play much football. I had two options, or put him from the start or include him in the final 30 minutes. But I decided to put him in the starting XI and gradually see how many minutes he could contribute.
“But personally, I felt that he played a very intelligent game. He didn’t try to show something spectacular, he just kept it simple. But I was pleased with his involvement in the build-up to the match and the early indications look very positive for me.”
Mangia ended his press conference by reiterating on the importance of giving young players the chance to show their talents with their clubs in the Premier League.
“The future of the national team must be at the top of the agenda of all stakeholders in the game,” Mangia said.
“We need to build a competitive team for the next Nations League. Apart from the striker, we also need to add more depth in the central defensive role. At the moment, there are some young players who have great potential both in Malta and abroad.
“But they need to be given the opportunity to play. I hope the clubs will have the courage to give them this opportunity and if they prove that they deserve the chance it will be a big boost for their club and in the long-term for the national team. But everyone needs to pull the rope in the same direction as our young players represent the future of football in Malta.”
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