National coach Devis Mangia had mixed feelings after yesterday’s 3-1 defeat to Russia in the opening 2022 World Cup Group H qualifier as his satisfaction at the team’s fearless and flowing performance was tempered by a sense of disappointment at the manner in which Malta conceded the goals.
Speaking to the media after the game at the National Stadium, Mangia said: “Looking at the game in its totality, I’m satisfied about the performance. Clearly, we commited some mistakes but overall, I’m very pleased about our performance, especially in the second half.”
After going 2-0 down, Malta raised their game in the second half with Joseph Mbong reducing the deficit in the 56th minute with a fine angled strike. Malta kept the pressure on Russia in search of an equaliser but a soft goal in the closing minutes settled the issue in favour of the visiting team, ranked 39th by FIFA.
Mangia stressed the importance for the Maltese team to keep striving towards sustained improvement in this gradual process.
“I always say that we are working and that we have to grow step by step,” the Malta coach said. “This is another step for us. We played against a team (Russia) who were in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, we can’t forget this.
“In the second half, we had control of the game and in the end, we had more shots at goal than them. These are things that I have to consider and not just the possession. Clearly we have to improve. I don’t want to speak about mistakes of one part of the team. When there is a mistake it is a mistake from the entire team and when we do good things, we do them as a team.”
IMPACT ON PREPARATIONS
Looking ahead, Mangia said that it’s imperative that the top leagues in Malta, especially the Premier League, will resume after 11th April as a prolonged suspension of domestic football (due to COVID-19 restrictions) will have a negative impact on the national team.
“From a physical point-of-view, we have to improve further to play against these teams,” Mangia said.
“In this context, as national coach, I can’t but emphasise the need for the Premier League to continue. If the league will stop and we have to wait another four months to resume, like last year… then we have to go and play qualifiers in September. How is it possible to play these kind of matches in these conditions?”
Photo. Domenic Aquilina