Malta coach stays positive despite gap in quality
The third qualifier for Euro 2020 was a disaster. For Malta. For Sweden, it was definitely a great match. Two national teams met on Friday in Solna to fight for the points for the Group F leaderboard. As long as the final score turned up to be 3-0 in the Swiss favor, Malta now needs to get their shit together if they hope to get out of the group.
They started the group qualification pretty well, especially taking into account these two games Not excellent, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Under the coaching of Ray Farrugia, the Malta guys got a 2-1 victory in a match against the Faroe Islands and lost to Spain with a 0-2 final score. Arriving in Sweden, Malta was aimed at stepping up their development process. Alas, the match wasn’t a success at all.
The first ball was sent into the net two minutes after the match started by Robin Quaison. It didn’t inspire confidence in the Malta team later on whose goalkeeper let it pass by him. The Swiss guardian of the woodwork, Henry Bonello, on the other hand, did a marvelous job having saved his team five times that match. Two more goals were scored in the second half by Viktor Claesson and Alexander Isak.
However, the Malta coach seems to be an optimist. Farrugia still managed to see something positive in that game. It may be especially useful ahead of the upcoming game against Romania. This match is supposed to conclude the first part of this qualifying campaign.
One of the keystones on which Farrugia relies on while building his national team job is to continue introducing young players to the team.
A match against Sweden became a Jake Grech and Luke Montebello’s bow as decided by the former Under-21 coach. What it showed is that Farrugia keeps experimenting with switching players and sending new ones to the field. But it doesn’t change the general plan and idea of the game — the Malta coach is still aimed at speeding up the rhythm of play with build-up from the back, short passes or switching the ball towards the flanks and attempt quick passes near the opponents’ box.
Surprisingly, the overall impression of the first half of the game was that the Maltese were still keeping a positive attitude despite an early goal. They showed some positive football while keeping a tight hold upon themselves, at least before the break.
Farrugia commented on the game saying they were aware of the difficulties of that game but still were really surprised by the way they imposed themselves in the first half. He also added that the level declined in the second half of the game as “Henry Bonello managed come to the team’s rescue with some excellent saves.”
Farrugia concluded that they would focus on the upcoming match with Romania where they would try to get a positive result.
During the second half of the game, everyone could see the Maltese players got tired? it was literally written on their faces. No wonder, actually, they seemed so whacked out — they had to compete with the guys who take part in highly competitive games on a regular basis on a club level. Just remember who is in the Swedish national team and you will understand why it was a difficult task for Malta to keep up with a high tempo of the game.
The Swedish experienced players Viktor Claesson, formerly of Ajax, and Emil Forsberg who is on the books of RB Leipzig, leveled up the quality of the game taking the role of main conductors of the team. They nailed the game taking everything they could from lack of discipline in the Malta team.
Farrugia explained that “from the point of view of the discipline on the field, I feel that the players lost it a bit and that added insult to injury as Sweden kept pressing while we were struggling to maintain our positioning.”
Injury situation was another obstacle that really messed up Farrugia’s plans on who to send to the field in the game against Sweden as a number of key players were out unable to play.
He came up with a solution that can be called strange and unusual as a minimum: he chose to have six offensive players for that game. This is especially funny taking into account that Malta is somewhere just above the 200th position on the international stage.
The front row was compiled from Grech, Alfred Effiong and Montebello with Rowen Muscat and Luke Gambin in the middle of the park.
When Farrugia was asked WTF was that formation, he said there was no particular idea behind this choice and formation and it was dictated by the fact the key players he wanted to see on the field were injured. So this decision was basically made out of a lack of other options.
The Malta coach commented on the players who had to miss the game because of their injuries. He named Matthew Guillauimier, who showed himself well in the first two games, but had to stay outside the pitch because of the injury. He added that Bjorn Kristensen and Paul Fenech joined the national team after they played for their clubs injured and didn’t get back on full form to compete against Sweden.
“It was basically fill in the blanks situation for us, especially given the limitation of the pool of players we have to choose from,” — he explained.
Grech and Montebello and others of their kind definitely have some room to grow and improve their performance at the international level. But Farrugia was still happy with what that showed in the match taking into account how raw the experience they have is on this stage. The Malta coach said that Jake Grech and Luke Montebello did a great job against Sweden.
He shows his trust in the team saying that “we have to bear in mind that these players need to play more games of this level to start adapting themselves for certain types of matches. That is why I will continue to insert more young players into this group.”
He also added that he feels confident about the rest of the qualifiers which was inspired by the way the team reacted in the dressing room after the game. Farrugia explained that the team was disappointed with the result. He said it was positive because he had had an experience of teams reacting as if nothing had happened even when they had three, four, or five goals scored by the rivals.
Good news for the Malta team is that Michael Mifsud has come back to the squad to take part in the upcoming match against Romania.
He missed the thumping match against Sweden at the Friends Arena as he was still on recovery from a minor injury. But now the captain of the Malta national team is back on track and is ready to join the squad and inspire them with new life.
But good news comes with bad news: while Mifsud is back, defender Jonathan Caruana will be away during the game with Romania to recover from an injury.