The national team continues its preparation ahead of the EURO 2012 qualifiers which get underway next autumn with a friendly match against Finland at the National Stadium on Wednesday, kick-off at 19:00.
Since ending its commitments at the bottom of Group 1 in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Malta played one game – a friendly match against Bulgaria in November which the visitors won 4-1.
Like the game against Bulgaria, this will be another important test for John Buttigieg’s side as this gives the players the opportunity to show their qualities to the national coach. Such a game will also provide the players much needed experience at international level.
When naming the eighteen-man squad on Monday, Buttigieg and his assistant Carmel Busuttil included Justin Haber of Ferencvaros, Andrei Agius of Melfi and Daniel Bogdanovic of Barnsley but Andrew Hogg, Brian Said, Gilbert Agius, Kevin Sammut, Terence Scerri and Andre Schembri were left out. Steve Bezzina and Paul Fenech, who had made their national team debut in the game against Bulgaria, are part of the squad.
Australian-based duo John Hutchinson and Manny Muscat were unavailable. The former is currently injured while the latter is engaged in the Australian A-League play-offs with his club Wellington Phoenix.
The eighteen players selected by Buttigieg and Busuttil are:
goalkeepers Justin Haber (Ferencvaros – HUN), Mario Muscat (Hibs);
defenders Andrei Agius (Melfi – ITA), Steve Bezzina (Valletta), Jonathan Caruana (Hibs), Alex Muscat (Sliema), Kenneth Scicluna (Valletta);
midfielders Shaun Bajada (Birkirkara), Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Trevor Cilia (Birkirkara), Clayton Failla (Sliema), Paul Fenech (Birkirkara), Ryan Fenech (Sliema), Jamie Pace (Valletta);
forwards Daniel Bogdanovic (Barnsley – ENG), Andrew Cohen (Hibs), Michael Mifsud (unattached), Ivan Woods (Sliema).
Malta met Finland six times at Ta’ Qali. Following a 2-0 win for the locals in February 1988 and two draws – 0-0 in February 1989 and 1-1 in November 1990, Finland defeated Malta 2-0 in a European Championship qualifier in May 1991 before winning twice in two friendly matches – 2-0 in March 1998 and 2-1 in March 2004.
In the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the team managed by Englishman Stuart Baxter finished third in their group with five wins, three draws and two defeats. They were the only team in qualifying not to lose to Germany but came close to a win in the second meeting only to concede an equaliser in stoppage time.
The game will be controlled by Italian referee Mauro Bergonzi who will be assisted by Mariano Debono and Ingmar Spiteri as Assistant Referees and Marco Borg as fourth official.
Tickets will be available at the gates for €8 for men, €4 for women, children and senior citizens. Only the West Stand will be open.
Besides the game against Finland, Malta will be travelling to Aachen for a friendly match against Germany on May 13, before another friendly match against Macedonia at Ta’ Qali on August 11.
Photos: Copyright © domenic aquilina