Malta national teams’ head coach Michele Marcolini could not hide his pride after his team’s gallant showing against Euro 2020 finalists England.
Facing the formidable challenge of a dominant England team who had booked their place in next year’s Euro Championship finals in Germany with two matches to spare, any ambition that the Maltese outfit could leave Wembley Stadium with at least a point in their bag, looked a remote possibility.
But come Friday night, Marcolini’s team produced a really encouraging display in front of a sell-out 90,000 which saw them not only contain the attacking threat of the Three Lions but also had a few scoring opportunities that could have changed the course of the match.
In fact, inside the first minute of the match, Teddy Teuma went agonisingly close to give the Maltese a shock lead but his shot just missed the upright.
Instead, it was the home side who took the lead courtesy of an unfortunate Enrico Pepe own goal.
But despite this setback the Maltese continued to play with great personality, conceding very little to their more-quoted opponents and in fact the home side had just two shots on target before Harry Kane added a second on 73 minutes.
The team may have suffered a 2-0 defeat but no doubt they made their fans proud with their gallant display.
“It was another excellent performance,” Marcolini said.
“I am so proud of my players as they put in a great display. Despite facing a very strong team we still tried to attack and push forward each time we had the opportunity, particularly in the first half.
“This match has been another injection of confidence for us after our bright showing against Ukraine and to perform so well against one of the best teams in the world is another sign of how far this team
has grown in the last few months.”
Marcolini said one main reason behind the team’s ability to limit England’s scoring chances was their pro-active defensive approach.
“It’s a great satisfaction to have conceded few scoring chances against a fantastic team like England,” the Italian said.
“That came down mostly to our defensive set-up which was very proactive. I believe that the attitude of the team has helped a lot our defensive play. When the ball was being played backwards we still managed to push forward.
“Added to that we always found the right time to push forward and in the process limiting spaces for the English forwards.
“We remained compact throughout the whole match and even when we were pushed back in our half we managed to press them high, giving them little space to manouvre.”
All the players that took the field at Wembley Stadium enjoyed a very good night out but no doubt one of the star performers was midfielder Matthew Guillaumier who along with the returning Teddy Teuma, put on a very impressive display.
“All the players have put on a high-level performance,” Marcolini said.
“But you cannot not mention the performance of Gully who was outstanding again. It was not the first impressive display from him as even against Ukraine he had another high-level display.
“His performances for the national team have also helped him to win a regular starting berth with his club Stal Mielec in Poland and he has all the qualities to become a key player for them week in week out.
“Unfortunately I had to substitute him midway through the second half as I couldn’t take the risk of seeing him sent off for a second bookable offence.
“However, all the players have done very well last night and the team produced a compact display and to do that against a strong team like England was really good.”
Kemar Reid was a debutant for Malta against England on Friday and Marcolini was delighted with the performance of the Floriana striker.
“I am very pleased with the performance of Kemar Reid,” the Malta coach said.
“It’s not easy to start your international career against England at Wembley Stadium. I felt that he did well and he displayed all of his characteristics on the day. He is a striker with great physical strength and who attacks the spaces with his pace.
“He is going to be a great addition to our team and I have no doubt that he will show all his qualities during next year’s Nations League.”
While Malta’s Euro 2024 campaign came to a close on Friday, with the team failing to score a point in Group C, however, Marcolini said that it’s clear that the team is showing steady progress and can look forward to reaching their goal of winning promotion in the UEFA Nations League.
“The growth of this team can be seen by everyone,” Marcolini said.
“I had sensed in the past few months that the team was getting stronger and stronger. I am pleased with how far this team has come and we need to look at next year with a lot of optimism that we can reach our objectives.
“It will be important that we continue to work hard to continue to grow as a team. We need to understand the difference between the matches we played in the Euro qualifiers and those we have in store next year, particularly from a mental point of view.
“We need to understand that we will have to change our approach according to the strength of the opponent we will be facing.
“No doubt, all the hard work we have done in the last few months have helped us to become a better team and we can look at the future with a lot of optimism.”
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