After suffering a 3-1 defeat to Israel at the Ramat Gan Stadium on Thursday, Malta will be playing the first home game from Group F of the EURO 2012 qualifiers at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 19:30.
Addressing the media on Monday, national coach John Buttigieg said that playing two games in five days was never an easy task, let alone playing the second game after a long and difficult trip from Israel.
Buttigieg admitted that he was not happy with the team’s performance in the last game, mainly due to the fact that the team committed too much mistakes. The players were losing possession easily and two mistakes led to two of Israel’s goals. He said that this could also be due to the presence of young players without much experience.
However he said it was not fair to identify particular players or particular departments – the team as a whole and himself as coach were responsible. The Malta coach is expecting a much better performance on Tuesday.
John Buttigieg is aware of the fact that Latvia are a strong side. The team placed third in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, collecting seventeen points, just three short of the runner-up position which would have guaranteed them a place in the play-offs.
Following the Israel game, the Malta coach made one change to the eighteen-man squad replacing Paul Fenech with Ivan Woods. Buttigieg revealed that following the squad’s fifteen-hour trip from Israel to Malta on Friday, the Birkirkara midfielder went to play for his club in a friendly match later in the evening. This was unacceptable for the Malta coach.
When asked about the absence of particular players, Buttigieg remarked that Andre Schembri had refused to join the national squad six months ago as he preferred focussing on his club. However this does not rule him out of the national team in future. John Hutchinson was not travelling to Malta from Australia. On the other hand, the other Maltese-Australian player – Manny Muscat, did travel for these two games although he was only included as a substitute. The Malta coach said that Muscat was probably disappointed after not being included in the starting line-up but he has shown good attitude.
Manny Muscat could make it to the starting line-up on Tuesday. Another possibility is the inclusion of Andrew Cohen who was also included as a substitute.
Andrew Hogg should start in goal with Jonathan Caruana and Andrei Agius as central defenders, Manny Muscat and Carlo Mamo on the flanks. Gareth Sciberras is expected to join Jamie Pace once again as holding midfielders. Roderick Briffa, Daniel Bogdanovic and Shaun Bajada will be playing in midfield with Michael Mifsud as the only striker.
The other players in the squad are Mario Muscat, Edward Herrera, Clayton Failla, Massimo Grima, Ivan Woods, Ryan Fenech and Andrew Cohen.
Latvia hosted Croatia in the first group match in Riga last Friday, suffering a 0-3 defeat. Therefore they are eager to bounce back from this defeat with a win in Malta. Coach Aleksandrs Starkovs has Vit?lijs Astafjevs back at full fitness after the captain was only included as a substitute on Friday.
The full squad is made up of:
goalkeepers Andris Va?ins (FC Sion), Aleksandrs Ko?inko (FK Ventspils), Deniss Romanovs (Xäzär Länkäran FK)
defenders Pavels Mihadjuks (SK Liep?jas Metalurgs), Kaspars Gorkšs (Queens Park Rangers FC), Deniss Ivanovs (Sivasspor), Ritus Krjauklis (FK Ventspils), Oskars K?ava (FC Anzhi Makhachkala), Vit?lijs Smirnovs (Skonto FC), Aleksandrs Fertovs (Skonto FC)
midfielders Vit?lijs Astafjevs (Skonto FC), Andrejs Rubins (Qaraba? FK), Jurijs Žigajevs (FK Ventspils), Maksims Rafa?skis (SK Liep?jas Metalurgs), Juris Laizans (FC Salyut Belgorod), Aleksandrs Cau?a (Skonto FC), Artis Lazdi?š (FK Jelgava)
forwards Maris Verpakovskis (Ergotelis FC), ?irts Karlsons (FC ?nter Bak?), Andrejs Perep?otkins (Skonto FC), Artjoms Rud?evs (KKS Lech Pozna?)
Malta and Latvia met three times but this is the first game at this level. In May 1992, Malta beat Latvia 1-0 in a friendly match at Ta’ Qali. Two years later, Latvia registered a 2-0 win in a friendly game in Riga. The last meeting between the two teams goes back to February 1998 when Malta defeated Latvia 2-1 in the Rothmans Tournament.
In a bid to attract more supporters for this game, last month, the Malta Football Association announced that entrance to the South Side will be for free. However the South Stand will be closed as soon as there are 3,800 supporters inside and in case the stand is full, people should be aware that they would need to proceed to the Millennium Stand which is priced at €8 or to the West stand – €15.
Therefore the supporters are advised to be early at the stadium with the gates opening at 17:45 to avoid any disappointment. Entertainment at the National Stadium will start at around 18:00.
Malta vs Latvia will be controlled by Finnish referee Toy Asumaa who will be assisted by assistant referees Matti Heininen and Mikko Alakare and fourth official Ville Jarvenpaa.
Photo: Copyright © domenic aquilina