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Malta FA chief vows to invest more after Nations League disappointment

Malta defender Cain Attard (left) launches an attack against Estonia. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Malta Football Association president Bjorn Vassallo was visibly disappointed after the national team missed out on promotion in the UEFA Nations League for a second successive edition and said that more work needs to be done to eradicate the limitations that are hampering the team from reaching the next level.

On Friday, Malta needed to beat Estonia by a two-goal margin in Tallinn to secure an historic promotion from Group D2 in the UEFA Nations League.

But the team failed to reach their goal as a poor first-half display, which saw the Estonians take the lead from the spot and the dismissal of Jean Borg, left them with a mountain to climb.

After the break, Malta put in a resilient display and looked set to at least grind out a draw. However, a late defensive mistake condemned the team to a 2-1 defeat much to the disappointment of players, fans and the MFA administration who once more saw the side fail to deliver when it mattered most.

Vassallo, the Malta FA president, admitted that Friday’s result in Tallinn was disappointing and laid bare the limitations of this team.

“Tonight’s result was very disappointing,” Vassallo told the Times of Malta after the match.

“I think that our performances in the UEFA Nations League, three matches in June and tonight, were simply not good enough as we only managed to take 50 per cent of the points at stake.

“The team failed to perform at its best in various matches particularly in the home game against Estonia in June.

“As regards today’s match against Estonia, the result was influenced by a series of episodes that went against us. We conceded a penalty just before half-time and had a player sent off which left us with a mountain to climb.

“The players’ reaction after the break was very encouraging but we still didn’t do enough to hold on and pick up at least a draw.

“It’s clear that we need to continue working. This is the second time that we missed out on promotion. Two years ago, we needed to beat the Faroe Islands at the National Stadium and could only manage a draw.

“There is great disappointment among the players, the administration and the fans but we still have a lot of belief in the technical project that we started a few months ago.

“We are aware of our limitations that are hampering us and we need to analyse them well and find the solutions or else we will never make the next step. The association has what it takes to reach this goal and we will continue to invest.”

Vassallo said that the MFA is now looking forward to the Euro 2024 qualifying draws, that will be held in Germany on October 9, where the national team will discover its opponents.

Then the focus will fall back to the next edition of the UEFA Nations League and Vassallo revealed that it will be played under a new format that will be unveiled by the European governing body next month.

Asked whether the future of Devis Mangia will be put under the microscope in the coming weeks, Vassallo said that the MFA will be reviewing the whole technical set-up not just the performance of the senior national team.

“Our commitment is to continue to invest in our technical project which does not include only the ‘A’ national team but all age groups and that is why we are working hard at grassroot level,” Vassallo said.

Grassroot sector

“We believe that we could have performed much better in this edition of the UEFA Nations League but this disappointment will only increase our resolve to continue to invest heavily in the grassroot sector with the aim of building a stronger national team in the future that will be capable of achieving better results on a consistent basis.

“Devis Mangia is not only the coach of the senior national team but the national teams’ head coach and is in charge of our technical project so our analysis has to be on a wider spectrum and when the time to make some considerations will come we will be ready to do them.

“But one has to remember that we are at the start of our technical project. We launched it in 2019 but a few months later COVID-19 struck and we could not work how we wanted.

“As I said we will make our own evaluations and considerations of the whole project and if there is something to revise we will and if there are things to strengthen we will not take a step back as we want to provide all the necessary tools for our national team to continue to grow.”

In his post-match press conference national teams head coach Mangia hinted that maybe it was time to be braver and try to bring in more young blood into the national team set-up.

Vassallo said that the MFA has always been in favour of giving young players a chance to stake their claim in the national team.

“Since Devis Mangia took charge the average age of our national team has been significantly lowered over the past months,” Vassallo said.

“We have already seen a group of young players taking their place and I am always happy to see more youth talent added to the current crop of players.

“However, it is equally important that when you play at a certain international level you also need experienced players so it’s key to have a blend of youth and experience.

“I think that this group of players have worked a lot in the past months. Obviously, there is disappointment that we have missed out on promotion in the Nations League and that is already a change from the past as now we are fighting for something.

“I have no doubt that coach Mangia gives his 100 per cent in his work and sometimes even more and manages to bring the best out of our players.

“Sometimes our current limitations sees us missing out on reaching our objectives.

“But I hope the work we are carrying out will help us to make that step forward needed so that we have a national team that can aspire to higher objectives.”

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