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Mendes tells players to dare to dream as Malta face Italy in opener

Malta U-19 national team coach Toze Mendes.

Malta U-19 national team coach Toze Mendes is urging his players to dare to dream as the young side makes their debut in the competition with a tough clash against Italy at the National Stadium on Monday (kick-off: 9pm).

The Malta youngsters will be keen to impress when playing against the elite nations on the continent in this age group and will be aware of the difficulty of their task today when they face an Italian side who is blessed by several players that reached the U-20 World Cup a few weeks ago.

“Playing in the U-19 European Championship finals is a huge challenge for everyone,” the Portuguese coach said.

“The MFA administration has a tough job on their hands to organise the final stages of this category but no doubt it’s a great advert for the country as Malta will be in the news in the next two weeks so we are looking forward to it.

“Our ambition is to play the best football we can and do all we can to make the country proud.”

Mendes said that the team has been stepping up its preparations for this tournament since late 2021 when the MFA decided to focus on building a competitive team for the Euro Championship finals.
“In the beginning, the team was under the charge of Alessandro Zinnari, who is still part of our technical set-up,” Mendes said.

“During the past 18 months, we managed to play no less than 30 matches, which is an impressive feat when one considers that for Malta to play abroad there are huge travel expenses for the Maltese FA.

“It was a very long process, which obviously doesn’t come to an end with these championships as the development of these players has to continue. We started to work with the whole group of players at the end of June when the domestic championships finished and the foreign-based players joined their teammates.

“I would like to thank all the players that have been involved with us since November 2021 Unfortunately, I can only name 20 players for these championships, but all the players who were part of our group in the past year and a half gave a significant contribution for the team, as their input and dedication brought the best out of every player and push them to their limits.”

Mendes said that in the past months, he and his technical staff have done a lot of work with all the players to ensure the players continue to grow consistently in their game.

“In the last 15 months all the work that was done with these players was very valuable,” the former Valletta FC coach said.

“When the players work with full focus and commitment, their development is always happening consistently without ups and downs, and that’s what happened with these players. We have built the team on a very strong foundation. We worked a lot on the technical skills of the players as well as helping them to improve their tactical understanding of the game.

“If you compare the team from when we started till today there has been a major improvement as today the players have good knowledge of what to do when totally unexpected situations happen during the game and how to react in different circumstances.

“Added to that, since last November we have brought in nine players who are U-18 as we are already looking beyond this championship and continue to work for the future and prepare for the next qualifying campaign.”

Focusing on the team’s first assignment in the championship, Mendes admitted it’s going to be a very tough start for the home side against the Italians.

“Italy are one of the best teams in the tournament,” the Portuguese said.

“They are coming into this tournament with a very strong squad. Five of the players they have on their roster were part of the U-20 selection that managed to reach the final of the U-20 World Cup only to lose to Uruguay in the final.

“Italy have a very talented player in Cher Ndour who is one of their star performer and no doubt they are a very strong side.”

Despite the tough challenge facing his team, Mendes is asking his players not to focus too much on their opponents but try and enjoy themselves and try to express themselves.

“The key for us is to be able to manage the level of stress of the tournament environment,” Mendes said.

“I want my players to believe in themselves. My message is simple – dare to dream as you have every right to dream. The size of the pitch is the same for both teams. I want my team to go out and play without fear, giving everything they have. It’s important that after the 90 minutes, we leave the pitch with no recriminations. If the opponents are better than us, then they will end up deserved winners.

“At the end of the day, the players have an incredible opportunity to showcase their talent in on a big stage and I want them to believe in themselves.”

A report in the local media in the past week had said that Mendes will leave his post as U-19 coach at the end of the tournament and is planning to return to his homeland to take over at Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes.

However, Mendes denied that it was his decision to leave his post.

“My desire was always to remain in Malta and continue to work with this group of players,” the Portuguese said.

“This is an amazing group of players and I wanted to continue follow their development and help them become the best players that they can be. However, unfortunately, it was not to be as my request was not accepted by the federation.

“But for now my full focus is on this U-19 European Championship where I hope to help the team produce a good display that will make their country proud.”

PROGRAMME

PLAYING MONDAY

TONY BEZZINA STADIUM
Poland vs Portugal 18.00
NATIONAL STADIUM
Malta vs Italy 21.00

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