As part of the national team’s preparation ahead of EURO 2012 qualifiers which get underway next month, Malta will be facing FYR Macedonia in a friendly match at the National Stadium on Wednesday, kick-off at 20:00. Malta was drawn in Group F together with Croatia, Greece, Israel, Latvia and Georgia. The first two games are against Israel in Tel Aviv on September 2 and against Latvia at home five days later.
Since the end of the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, Malta played three friendly matches – a 1-4 defeat to Bulgaria at the Hibs Stadium in November, a narrow 1-2 defeat to Finland at Ta’ Qali in March and a 3-0 loss to Germany in Aachen in May.
The national team has just arrived from a one-week training camp in Italy which according to national coach John Buttigieg helped the team in its preparation due to the fact that the players were fully focussed, spending one week together.
Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, Buttigieg stressed that each game is important for the national team. He said he was expecting a difficult match against Macedonia as the national team plays its first match of the new season. The fact that the league is yet to start means that the players are not in their best condition and this makes it more difficult in the first two EURO 2012 qualifier although he admitted that many other countries faced the same problem.
As regards objectives for the coming EURO 2012 campaign, John Buttigieg said that his objective was always to improve from one game to another and obtaining positive results, especially in home matches. He admitted that this will not always be positive but the players should give their hundred percent to try to obtain this.
Buttigieg said his squad is always based on the best players available at the time. He went on to say that for the training camp in Italy, he included four players who should be able to make it to the senior squad in a couple of years’ time.
Players like Kenneth Scicluna, Alex Muscat, Andre Schembri and Anthony Curmi are not part of the squad as they are injured while the absence of Maltese-Australians Manny Muscat and John Hutchinson is due to the fact that he felt it was not practical to bring the two players for a friendly match when the two were about to play their first league game for their clubs.
Malta captain Michael Mifsud said Wednesday’s game will be another difficult test but the team will be doing their best to get a good result. Mifsud, who is still without a club after spending the last part of the season with Valletta, confirmed he is still in talks with foreign clubs.
The eighteen players selected by Buttigieg and his assistant Carmel Busuttil are:
goalkeepers Andrew Hogg (Valletta), Mario Muscat (Hibs);
defenders Andrei Agius (Cassino), Shaun Bajada (Birkirkara), Jonathan Caruana (Valletta), Edward Herrera (Hibs), Carlo Mamo (Marsaxlokk);
midfielders Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Clayton Failla (Sliema), Paul Fenech (Birkirkara), Ryan Fenech (Hamrun), Massimo Grima (Hamrun), Jamie Pace (Valletta), Kevin Sammut (Valletta), Gareth Sciberras (Marsaxlokk);
forwards Daniel Bogdanovic (Sheffield United), Andrew Cohen (Hibs); Michael Mifsud.
Although FYR Macedonia are yet to qualify for a World Cup or a European Championship in their relative short history, they are ranked 66th in the world and 36th in Europe.
All their players are based abroad with their most popular player being captain Goran Pandev who plays for European champions Inter.
The Macedonian squad is made up of:
goalkeeper Edin Nuresinoski (Ethnikos Ahnas – CYP), Tome Pacovski (Germinal Beerschot – BEL);
defenders Armend Alimi (Istra-Pula – CRO), Boban Grancarov (APOEL – CYP), Vlade Lazarevski (Lokomotiv Astana – KAZ), Igor Mitreski (Neftici – AZE), Nikolce Noveski (Mainz 05 – GER), Vance Shikov (Ethnikos Ahans – CYP);
midfielders Slavco Despotovski (unattached), Slavco Georgievski (Neftici – AZE), Mario Fjurvoski (Vojvodina – SRB), Goran Popov (Dinamo Kiev – UKR), Velice Shumulikoski (unattached);
forwards Besant Ibraimi (Schalke 04 – GER), Ilco Naumoski (Mattersburg – AUT), Goran Pandev (Inter – ITA), Aco Stojkov (Aarau – SWI), Ivan Trichkovski (APOEL – CYP).
Malta and FYR Macedonia met five times with the latter winning all matches. The last game between the two teams goes back eight years when Macedonia defeated Malta 5-0 in a friendly match in Skopje.
The match will be controlled by a referee from San Marino, Gabriele Rossi, who will be assisted by assistant referees Konrad Borg and Mariano Debono and fourth official Chris Lautier.
Tickets will be available at the gates for €8.
Photos: Copyright © domenic aquilina