Malta will be hoping for a repeat of the good performance and the good result obtained six years ago as the national team hosts Croatia in a EURO 2012 qualifier at the National Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 19:00. On that occasion, Croatia, who were fighting to secure a place in the World Cup which was held the following year in Germany, were held in a 1-1 draw by Malta.
The situation is quite similar this time as Croatia are hoping to secure a place in the EURO 2012 finals which will be held next year in Poland and Ukraine. The team led by coach Slaven Bilic is currently second in the group on thirteen points, together with Israel, one point behind leaders Greece.
For Malta, this clash is yet another difficult game. Speaking on Thursday, Malta coach John Buttigieg said preparation for the game was far from ideal as it was only in the past four days that the national squad was training together. Buttigieg said his objective was that of improving over the performance of the game against the Central African Republic. A game which Malta won 2-1 thanks to a brace by Michael Mifsud.
Although Mifsud missed the first two league games for Valletta, he should be in the starting line-up as the Malta coach said all players at his disposal are fully fit.
Buttigieg is not worried about the fact that Croatia are desperate for points as they lie second in the group. He said that following the draws, it was clear that Croatia would be among the main protagonists in the group. Whatever their current position in the group is, they come to Malta for the three points.
“Our objective is to make it as difficult as possible for them and maybe obtain a positive result,” said Buttigieg.
“It is always difficult to play against a strong team like Croatia but such opponents are a bigger motivation for our players. We can rise to the occasion against such opponents.”
Among the players who are back in the squad is Wellington Phoenix defender Manny Muscat. The Australian-born flank defender is glad to be back for Malta. He said he is well aware that the game against Croatia is a tough game.
“We are preparing well and hope we do what we are asked for,” said Muscat.
Justin Haber, Alex Muscat and Shaun Bajada are ruled out injured while Edward Herrera, Kenneth Scicluna, John Mintoff, Christian Caruana and Daniel Bogdanovic failed to make it to the final squad. Bogdanovic had to leave Malta to go for a medical test and sign for his new club Blackpool.
The squad is therefore made up of:
goalkeepers Reuben Gauci (Marsaxlokk), Andrew Hogg (Valletta);
defenders Andrei Agius (Latina), Steve Borg (Valletta), Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Jonathan Caruana (Valletta), Clayton Failla (Hibs), Carlo Mamo (Marsaxlokk), Joseph Zerafa (Birkirkara);
midfielders Trevor Cilia (Birkirkara), Paul Fenech (Birkirkara), Ryan Fenech (Valletta), John Hutchinson (Chengdu Blades), Manny Muscat (Wellington Phoenix), Jamie Pace (Valletta), Gareth Sciberras (Birkirkara);
forwards Andrew Cohen (Hibernians), Michael Mifsud (Valletta), Andre Schembri (Olyimpiakos Volou), Ivan Woods (Floriana).
Slaven Bili? has left out forwards Ivan Rakiti? and Mladen Petri?, insisting he is fortunate to have such a wealth of attacking options. Bili? has named NK Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper Ivan Kelava in his squad after an impressive performance in the UEFA Champions League play-off second leg against Malmö FF, however, the 23-year-old is unlikely to win his first cap.
The squad is made up of:
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (FC Rostov), Danijel Subaši? (HNK Hajduk Split), Ivan Kelava (NK Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Vedran ?orluka (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Josip Šimuni? (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim), Dejan Lovren (Olympique Lyonnais), Ivan Strini? (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Gordon Schildenfeld (Eintracht Frankfurt), Darijo Srna (FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Šime Vrsaljko (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Domagoj Vida (GNK Dinamo Zagreb).
Midfielders: Luka Modri? (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Niko Kranj?ar (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Ivo Ili?evi? (1. FC Kaiserlsautern), Milan Badelj (GNK Dinamo Zagreb), Ognjen Vukojevi? (FC Dynamo Kyiv), Tomislav Dujmovi? (FC Dinamo Moskva), Ivan Periši? (Borussia Dortmund).
Forwards: Eduardo (FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Mario Mandžuki? (VfL Wolfsburg), Nikola Kalini? (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Nikica Jelavi? (Rangers FC), Ivan Klasni? (Bolton Wanderers FC).
Malta and Croatia met five times. Following a 4-1 win at Ta’ Qali in October 1998 in the EURO 2000 qualifiers, Croatia won 2-1 in Zagreb the following August. Croatia thenregistered a 3-0 win in Zagreb in March 2005 in the World Cup qualifiers but the 1-1 draw at Ta’ Qali in September 2005 almost hampered their chances of qualification. Last November, Croatia defeated Malta 3-0 in the current EURO 2012 campaign.
Public Transport services will be provided by Arriva from Valletta to the National Stadium. Transport leaves the Valletta Bus Terminus Bay No. 15 at 16:45 and 17:30. Transport back to Valletta will leave at 21:00 and 21:15 from in front of the Millennium Stand. Buses will be showing the sign “National Stadium Direct Service”.
Doors at the National Stadium open at 17:00. The North Stand will be reserved for Croatian fans. Croatian fans yet without a ticket may obtain one from the West Stand A ticket-booths.
All other tickets will be sold from the respective entrance, except for the South Stand tickets which will be sold from the West Stand C ticket booths only.
Ticket-prices are as follows: West Stand – €25; Millennium Stand – €10; South Stand – €5
After this game, Malta will be hosting Georgia on Tuesday at the National Stadium, kick-off at 20:30
Photos: Copyright © domenic aquilina/MFA