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Watch: Our decision-making in final third must improve, says Malta coach Marcolini

Joseph Mbong (right) controls the ball ahead of Gianluca Scamacca. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Malta national teams coach Michele Marcolini said that his players needed to improve their decision-making in the final third of the pitch if they are going to be more of a threat against superior opponents.

The Italian coach was speaking on the aftermath of Sunday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Italy which saw the European champions eke out a 2-0 win at the National Stadium.

However, things could have taken a different twist had Alex Satariano taken his opportunity after five minutes of play which saw the Balzan striker played through on goal by Joseph Mbong but his effort was brilliantly pushed over by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina/MFA

“I don’t think that had Satariano scored that early chance there would be any change to the final result,” Marcolini said.

“But had Alex scored we would have given a huge satisfaction to the thousand of Maltese fans who have come to support us tonight. I am very happy with how the team started the match and their approach throughout the 90 minutes.

“Today, we played against a very strong team and we were unlucky that we conceded the goals on Italy’s first two efforts on target. In difficult matches like this, it could have easily seen the team crumble under pressure and end up suffering a humiliating defeat.

“But once more the players reacted strongly, played with pride, and sacrificed themselves a lot.

“I do hope that we will manage to win some points in the group but given the strength of our opponents, it will be tough. However, what I guarantee is that our priority will always be to ensure that our fans will always be happy and proud of our performances and on this point, I have no regrets.”

Satariano’s opportunity turned out to be Malta’s best chance of the match but there were several other situations when the Maltese players carved out good openings. However, poor distribution of the final ball or rushed conclusions hurt their hopes of posing more of a threat to the Italian goal.

“During the second half the match was more balanced and we managed to pose a bit of a threat to Donnarumma,” Marcolini said.

“But it is clear, that we need to improve our decision-making in the final third of the pitch. There were some situations that with a better decision could have been turned into inviting scoring opportunities, like maybe passing the final ball better or else shooting at goal instead of passing the ball.

“So definitely, this is one area that we need to work on.”

On Sunday, Marcolini was forced to leave the influential Teddy Teuma on the bench as the Royal Saint Gilloise midfielder was not fully fit and

decided to leave him out to ensure he didn’t suffer a serious injury.

“Teddy Teuma came for these qualifiers really tired as for the past three weeks he had to play two matches every week due to his team’s commitments in the Europa League,” Marcolini said.

“I was forced to take him off against North Macedonia and on Saturday, during the last training session, he was struggling a lot and I preferred not to include him in the starting formation to protect his health and ensure he doesn’t suffer a long-term injury.

“This is not our last match in this qualifying campaign and we will need Teddy’s qualities for our next matches in June. It was a tough decision as he is a special player with a great personality but it was the best decision for everyone.”

Marcolini was without several players for these matches due to injury and suspension but while he hoped that he

will have a bigger pool available for June’s qualifiers against England at home and Ukraine away, he had words of praise for the players that came in the starting formation on Sunday.

“I was very happy with the players who came into the team today,” Marcolini said.

“Juan Corbalan had played so well after coming as a substitute against North Macedonia and given his good form for Ħamrun Spartans he deserved his chance. Nikolai Muscat is a very intelligent midfielder and with the absence of Teddy Teuma, we needed a player with similar qualities. He may not be the biggest player from a physical point of view but he is very intelligent and always knows what he needs to do.

“On the other hand, Yannik Yankam had also done well against North Macedonia and give us added height in our squad which we are lacking particularly in set-piece situations and I felt he did well again.

“Jodi Jones, on the other hand, is not a pure striker but he has great technique and can dribble past an opponent and has a good shot. No doubt he can be of great help to our attack.

“And I also want to give special mention to Cain Attard. He played these two matches in a position he doesn’t play normally as a left-sided centre half despite being right-footed. I know that it was not easy for him but his application and dedication to the team were superb and I like players like him.”

Maltese passport

During Sunday’s post-match conference Italy coach Roberto Mancini said that given the dearth of Italian players who are playing regularly in Serie A, it was inevitable for the Italian FA to look for players with Italian origins to play for the Azzurri.

The MFA in the past two months had stepped up their search to find perfect candidates to be given a Maltese passport to boost the national team. Marcolini said that while it’s the new phenomenon in international football, he said it was important to bring in players who are committed to the cause.

“We are working hard to see if we can bring in some foreign-based talent with Maltese origin to the national squad, and it’s not only us but all countries are doing it,” Marcolini said.

“We do have a couple of players who were brought in on this basis and we are also on the look-out on fresh talent but it’s important that they have an ideal profile for our project.

“I am only keen on bringing players who are here for the long-term and not just to play a couple of international matches. They need to show attachment to the cause.

“We have a prime example of such players in Teddy Teuma who is really attached to our country and is always giving more than his 100 per cent to our cause.

“That is the kind of attitude we are looking for in potential new players.”

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