Two defeats against Spain had been expected. The margin of defeat in Belfast was probably greater than Heese had appreciated, but they could take a lot of heart from the 2-2 draw with Hungary. Malta were not greatly inferior to their opponents, yet it was obvious they were still among Europe’s weaker teams. However, Heese had built a more solid defensive foundation, and they were able to cause other teams problems on the counter. As for individual displays, John Buttigieg has more than hold his own against very strong opponents, and Carmel Busuttil’s two goals against Hungary to give Malta a share of the points was another hugely pleasing aspect. An admirer of the traditional West German man-marking principles, Heese has also seen Edwin Camilleri rise to the occasion. And in skipper Ray Vella they have the wise head to keep them ticking in the middle of the park. The right back position is causing the manager a few problems. Different players have been tried out here, but few have impressed until now. In midfield, though, Charles Scerri seems to be emerging as a schemer, able to play well in a central as well as in a wide right capacity.
Horst Heese had been selecting from a very small pool of players. Six players had started all of their four opening matches, with a further five having started all bar one. These eleven did in fact make out Heese’s strongest team. Cluett’s position in goal was never under threat. With three central defenders, the West German would always look to Buttigieg to perform behind (Edwin) Camilleri and Galea. Buttigieg could have used his physique more to his advantage; he would instead love to try and dribble the opposing teams’ forwards. He could be seen as a liability, which was perhaps why he wasn’t involved so much at Brentford as one could expect from someone with his international pedigree. Buttigieg featured at libero also because he was a good reader of the game, and he would often be used for creative inspiration even by more forward-lying players.
In Galea and (Edwin) Camilleri you would get two players who would never shirk their responsibility. Heese saw these two as the ideal man markers, and they were both fairly well equipped in a physical sense, even if perhaps Galea was smaller than your average centre back. They would both happily leave creativity to others.
At left back Azzopardi always did a solid job, unless he was told to man mark. He had a stinker of a first half in Spain, and was taken off just after the half hour mark, after Manolo had exploited his lack of talent in marking. However, it was still goalless when he came off. Malta would eventually lose 4-0. Probably, though, they would have ended up empty-handed even if Heese had never adjusted tactically in bringing Cauchi on for Azzopardi. His best asset is probably his endeavour. At times he also built a good report with Michael Degiorgio along the left hand side.
Right back appeared to be the position which troubled Heese the most. We had seen Joe Brincat in Belfast. Silvio Camilleri was picked for the home match against Hungary, and he would continue in a man-marking capacity at home to Spain, who came with two wide forwards, until brother Edwin took over early in the second half. Then it was Edwin Camilleri again for Spain away, at least for 30 minutes, when Heese brought on Cauchi as replacement for Azzopardi, seeing (Edwin) Camilleri make the switch across to left back, with Cauchi getting his first qualification minutes for Italia ’90 under his belt at right back. The soundest alternative had seemed to be the older of the two Camilleris, but then again he was needed at centre half.
Ray Vella is the undoubted star of Maltese football, and his absence in the opener in Northern Ireland was felt hard. No other Malta player possesses his natural authority and ability to remain calm even when pace exceeds beyond what these players face in their domestic league. He might not be of impressive physique, but even if his stature’s not great, he does shield the ball well, and he usually manages to find a team mate with his passes. That can not always be said for the Maltese. Vella would mainly be used in a deep midfield role, from where he would be the main distributor, even if Buttigieg behind him would sometimes help him out in this department. Martin Gregory was also occasionally seen in a deeper role. This one’s got legs which can carry him around, and he will never stop running. Gregory also has the ability to play further up field, but does not seem to have a natural goalscorer’s instinct, so could well be best suited in a midfield capacity. Central midfield is probably where Malta are best equipped, with a good few players to chose from. Another one is indeed Charles Scerri, whose versatility, however, makes him a useful pick also for a wide position. Scerri is another strong runner, and someone who is not afraid to take his man on. He possesses one of the more creative heads in the Malta team, and probably has had his best moments out wide, where he can assist someone like Busuttil. In addition, he loves a battle. Charles Scerri can be trusted with physical duties if needed.
Michael Degiorgio’s name is household to any Malta football fan. He’s been around the national team for an impressive eight years already, despite only being 26. Degiorgio appears to be Heese’s best pick on the left hand side of midfield, where he can use his engine and his ability to take people on. He also possesses a decent left foot, and can hit a cross. His pace is not his greatest asset, though, and he is not your out and out winger who will run past his full-back time and again.
The forward roles belong to Carmel Busuttil and David Carabott. Martin Gregory’s had a couple of guest appearances in a forward position, but Heese definitely sees these two as his ideal partnership when playing with two strikers. Neither is your outright number 9; they both like to wander. Busuttil is often seen coming deep to collect the ball. He has a low point of gravity and is blessed with an elaborate level of skill. He can take people on and he can finish a move, like he showed with his two goals against Hungary. As for Carabott, he is someone who seems to prefer making openings for others with his runs out wide. He does not have any typical stand-out features, but he possesses a bit of everything. Despite his tender age, he is developing experience at international level, which will stand him good for his footballing future. Could develope into a clever forward with the right kind of coaching.
Malta should not lose heart after their two straight defeats against Spain, who really are a cut above everyone else in this group. They still have a fair chance to nick a point or even two from most of their remaining opponents. Developing their rather youthful team for coming qualifications and looking for Ray Vella’s long term replacement could also be tasks which Heese is trying to undertake.