Malta’s last Euro 2020 qualifier before hosting Sweden on Saturday was an away trip to Romania in Petrolul, on September 8 – Victory Day for the Maltese.
Although victory did not arrive, the national team produced one of its best performances in this qualifying campaign – along with the 2-1 win over the Faroe Islands – as they gave third-placed Romania a good run for their money.
Ultimately, Cosmin Contra’s side had emerged victorious by a solitary goal but Malta’s gutsy display had drawn plaudits from the Romanian fans after the match.
That performance was a sign that the team was continuing to gel together and becoming more compact, making it hard for any team to break them down.
Next up for Ray Farrugia’s team was another tough challenge in the form of Euro 2020 hopefuls Sweden, and inevitably it provided the perfect opportunity for the Maltese players to reconfirm all the positives witnessed in Eastern Europe.
Yet, once again, the Maltese endured a difficult night on home soil after a number of sloppy mistakes propelled the Swedes towards a routine 4-0 win – a deficit that could have been larger only for Sweden to squander several clear-cut chances in the closing stages of the game.
Tomorrow, the Maltese team have a glorious chance to redeem themselves and at the same time write some piece of history when they travel to the Faroe Islands.
Avoiding a seventh defeat in Group F in Torshavn would boost Malta’s chances to avoid the wooden spoon in this group.
In addition, should the Reds see off the Faroes they would break the five-point record chalked up during the Euro 2008 qualifications as they would move to the six-point mark.
Hence, this crucial appointment – somewhat of a World Cup final by our means – may have influenced the performance of Maltese.
Yet, midfielder Luke Gambin has denied that the team didn’t give the match against Sweden the importance it deserved and said that all the players were distraught on how the match against the Scandinavians turned out to be.
“It was not a good game for us,” Gambin told the Times of Malta.
“Despite Tuesday’s game, we focused only on this game and therefore we are really disappointed with its outcome.
“The referee may not have helped us because there were some decisions in the final third that made it more difficult for us.
“In Romania we had a very good performance and we felt that we could improve on that.”
Although the Maltese team were looking to press from mid-block, Sweden were not finding it hard to break the first line of pressure and play the ball vertically in the direction of Robin Quaison.
It was a pattern of play that forced the Maltese to chase shadows for the majority of the game, something that Gambin pointed out as well.
“Sweden is a good team and they play the ball really well,” the Colchester United midfielder said.
“Out of possession it was difficult for us because we had to run a lot and inevitably our energy levels dropped.
“That inevitably had a negative effect when we were pushing forward as we don’t have the lucidity to make the right movement when pushing forward.”
Still, the former Barnet and Luton Town player feels that should Malta had taken its first-half chances, the game could have taken a different tide.
“In the first half, we created some good chances and Kyrian Nwoko had an opportunity that could have changed the game and which at the same time showed that we can threaten through set plays,” he said.
Gambin is one of Malta’s best-skilled players and that came to fore on a couple of occasions, in particular on the 44th minute of the first half when he combined with Joseph Mbong before attempting a long-range effort that was deflected into corner from which Nwoko’s chance arrived.
While the 3-5-2 shape deployed by Ray Farrugia may not be a security insurance in the middle of the park, the flanks are Malta’s best chance to produce some kind of a threat.
The density created by the opponents in the central department against Malta could help Farrugia’s team to make more use of the flanks, in particular of Gambin.
The English-based player could play a key role in quick transitions or in obtaining numerical advantage.
In addition, shooting on sight is another feature that Malta should try to benefit from, in particular against the Faroes where playing on an artificial pitch may make life slightly difficult for the Maltese to play slick passing football.
Nonetheless, all this can be possible only if Malta step up their game.
“It was important to have a good performance against Sweden because of Tuesday’s (tomorrow) match,” Gambin explained.
“Obviously, now we have to move on quickly as we are aware of the importance of the Faroe Islands game and we are striving to do well in Torshavn.”