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I want my players to play more positive football against Ukraine says Malta national teams coach Marcolini

Malta national teams coach Michele Marcolini watches over a training session. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Michele Marcolini is expecting his players to provide the right response after Saturday’s defeat to Italy when the national team host Ukraine in another Euro 2024 qualifier at the National Stadium on Tuesday (kick-off: 8.45pm).

The Maltese head into the match on the back of a damaging 4-0 defeat at the hands of European champions Italy at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari. While there was very little hope that the team could secure a positive result against one of the giants on the continent, however, what disappointed most was the feeble challenge posed by the team, particularly in the second half.

Marcolini told the media that nobody in the national team clan can be happy about what happened in Bari last weekend but has backed his players to rise to the occasion and try and prove that they can produce a much better display against the Ukrainians.

“No person that was involved in Saturday’s match in Italy can be happy with what happened. Firstly, with the result as I don’t like to lose matches 4-0. That second goal just before half-time hit us hard as until that time we were controlling them well but then the team lost its shape.

“There is a great desire among the players to show that they are a far better team than Saturday’s result has shown. We have prepared well for this match and I can assure you that my style as coach is not defensive-minded as I love my teams to attack and score goals.

“We were playing against a very strong team but right from the start, the team went into the match with the right frame of mind as we tried to make it difficult for them right from the word go.

“Against Ukraine, we need to be more positive and more aggressive as that is the only way to create problems for them.”

The Malta coach wants his team to try and play more offensive football and try not to worry about what can happen if they make mistakes in their half.

“We cannot be happy with what we did against Italy and our goal is to try and do much better and we are ready to deliver. I want my team to try and move as a block higher up the pitch and play more attacking football,” the Italian coach said.

“I have told my players to take the pitch with a free mind and don’t think if they commit technical mistakes in their final third as we need to take some gambles to be dangerous.

“I want my team to be more aggressive and try and be more incisive when creating scoring chances. Earlier this year, we faced Ukraine and produced one of the best performances in this group. It was only a late penalty that condemned us to defeat.

“During that match, we created a number of chances which we failed to take and that is my biggest regret as we deserved to score at least one goal. I want my players to be positive and try and push forward but you have to keep in mind that we are facing a very strong team who are still fighting for qualification.”

Ukraine are currently fighting for the runners-up spot in Group C as they are currently sharing second spot with Italy and they will be looking for nothing less than a win.

“Ukraine will be tough opponents,” Marcolini conceded.

“For this match, they will have Mudryk in the team and he will surely be a great threat for us. When we faced them the first time they had just changed their coach so now they got used to his tactical philosophy and that is being reflected by their recent performances.

“They did lose against Italy but even in that match they have shown that they are capable of challenging the Italians for second spot till the final match.”

Marcolini has no fresh injury worries for today’s match as while Teddy Teuma and Jodi Jones will again miss out due to injury, he is boosted by the return of Steve Borg who missed the Italy match due to suspension.

On his part, Yannick Yankam, the Birkirkara midfielder, said that for him being involved in these matches against top European nations is a great learning curve and will help young players like him to gain the necessary experience at this level.

“It’s a massive opportunity to play in these kind of matches,” Yankam said.

“To play in these matches in front of a sold-out stadium like happened on Saturday is the perfect environment for any player. No doubt these matches are providing us with a lot of valuable experience which will come in good stead for us in the UEFA Nations League.

“The Euro 2024 qualifiers are matches played at a much higher level and where you take the opportunity to grow as a player. We like these challenges and I hope that we can produce a top performance for our fans against Ukraine.”

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