The Malta national team travels to Pärnu, Estonia on Monday where the boys led by national coach Pietro Ghedin will be facing Estonia at the Pärnu Rannastaadion on Wednesday. A friendly match as part of the team’s preparation ahead of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup with the first match being against Scotland at Ta’ Qali on Sunday September 4th.
Addressing the media on Saturday, MFA General Secretary Bjorn Vassallo said that there is big enthusiasm for the game against Scotland. Five thousand tickets have already been sold to Scottish fans and overall over twelve thousand tickets were sold. He said a Fan Zone will be set-up at the MFCC for fans from both sides to mingle with a sense of fair play and celebration. Transport will be provided by Transport Malta from St. Julian’s, Bugibba and Valletta.
Vassallo said that a record number of Maltese supporters are expected to travel for the game against England in programme on October 8 at Wembley Stadium. He said that local fans should support the national team throughout the whole campaign and not only in the big games.
The MFA General Secretary revealed that the 2016 calendar for the national team is now complete after reaching an agreement with the FA of Iceland for a friendly match between Malta and Iceland on November 15 at Ta’ Qali. After the England game, Malta plays Lithuania in Vilnius on October 11 and hosts Slovenia on November 11. Malta hosts Slovakia in another World Cup qualifier in March which will hopefully be followed by a high-profile friendly match at Ta’ Qali.
As regards the Scotland game, Bjorn Vassallo said the association had full faith in the players and was confident that they could take something for the game and above all, win respect from the opponents. With regards to the Iceland friendly, Vassallo said the association had been planning it for some time and was due to be played last year but had to be postponed. When asked whether Malta would be under pressure, considering Iceland’s recent impressive results, he denied the Maltese would be under particular pressure. He said that Under-19 level, the countries were more or less at par but at senior level, Iceland had a big pool of professional players and Malta had only a handful. He stressed that unless Malta had at least twenty full-time professionals, it would be impossible to achieve such results.
National coach Pietro Ghedin said that all the players in the squad are in good condition. He said that unfortunately the squad did not have much time together and after a recovery session on Saturday morning, a training session will be held on Sunday and the squad leaves to Estonia on Monday.
Ghedin said he is looking forward for the Scotland game where the team will be wearing a new Givova shirt and playing on the newly-installed hybrid pitch.
The Italian coach said he would stick to the 5-3-2 formation since he did not have enough time to experiment with other formations.
When asked regarding the absence of Rowen Muscat, Ghedin said that he was a very important player but he has been three months without playing.
“If you do not play with the club, it difficult to play for the national team,” said Ghedin. However he was quick to reject a comparison with Michael Mifsud who was still called to the national team at time when he was still without a club, saying that at the time, he did not have a player to replace him.
“There are several players who deserve to be in the national team. I am sorry for them but there is not space for everyone. There are four to five players from the Under-21 squad ready for the national team as they would no longer be eligible to play for the Under-21 side after the end of the qualifying campaign in October.”
Ghedin said during the last friendly matches in Austria, Luke Gambin turned out to be a good surprise with his fine performance. He also revealed that the association is checking on the possibility of having Floriana striker Maurizio Vella to play for the national team.
The twenty-five year old striker was born in Mannheim, Germany and holds a dual German and Italian citizenship. He started his career in Germany with Waldhof Mannheim and later played for Mechtersheim before moving to Italy where he played for Ribera, Licata, Citta di Messina, Juve Stabia, L’Aquila and Paganese.
Roderick Briffa said the players are well-prepared for the forthcoming commitments. He said the players knew what the expectations were and they were geared for the first qualifiers.
Briffa said that in his opinion, with the increase in the number of foreigners, the level of local clubs improved and the teams’ performance in Europe proved this.
The Valletta midfielder concluded by saying that the newly-installed hybrid pitch was “perfect” and thanks to it, the local game would be much faster.