After a highly disappointing 0-3 defeat to Estonia in a friendly match last November, Malta will be aiming for a first positive result since the appointment of Tom Saintfiet as the new coach as it hosts Luxembourg at the National Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 18:00.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Saintfiet said this was an important game ahead of the forthcoming UEFA Nations League commitments starting in September. He said that although Malta had defeated Luxembourg 2-0, the last time the two teams met in Luxembourg, since then they improved a lot and are now ranked 83rd, one hundred and two places ahead of Malta. In the World Cup qualifiers, they finished fifth in the group.
“Their results were impressive and last year, they won three games. They have a lot of young players – eleven are still Under-21 players including 18 year old Vincent Thill who scored in the game against Nigeria. They also have sixteen players who are professionals who play abroad,” said Saintfiet.
Out of the twenty-five man squad named last week, the Malta coach lost Sam Magri who pulled out of the squad due to an injury while the clearance for Maltese-Australian Mitchell Mallia to turn out for Malta has not been received yet and is therefore ruled out.
Joseph Zerafa and Steve Borg suffered slight injuries during the weekend but should be available.
“We have a good mix of young and experienced players. There are players like Jean Borg, Siraj Arab. Michael Johnson and Triston Caruana who are still uncapped but there are a lot of experienced players like Andrei Agius and Andre Schembri.”
“We are looking forward for tomorrow. Our target is a good result. Against Estonia, we played decent football. We made some mistakes but players had been together only for a few days and it takes time to adjust.
Tom Saintfiet targets a positive result against Luxembourg.
“We will try to score goals and hopefully get a first win for 2018. It would be nice to win but it is not easy. One can play perfect football but fail to win. If players do what I expect from them, I would still be happy.”
“We are developing a team for Nations League, we want to be competitive and win games. We have to play well organised football. We are looking forward to the Nations League. Hopefully we can score from the chances we create to win games. Defenders should be there not to concede goals and strikers to score.”
“We have a flexible system where when we are under pressure, defenders have the necessary support; when we have the ball, we could attack. Tomorrow the formation would be one where defenders are focussed on defending, midfielders and forwards focussed on attack.”
As regards the choice of players, Saintfiet said “At this moment, I was a bit limited due to unavailable players and Under-21 are playing in the coming week. If we want to develop the team, we would need some of the promising players who are in the Under-21 squad, like Jake Grech.”
“I saw one hundred and eighteen games and every club from the Premier League to the Third Division. I was impressed with the passion in Maltese football but unfortunately there is an overload of foreign players and unfortunately an overload of mediocre foreign players.”
“When you have the talent you have to play Premier League football, no matter the age. As national team coach, foreigners do not help me. In Luxembourg league, seven out of eleven have to be eligible to play for Luxembourg. If we want to develop players, they have to play regularly,” added the Malta coach.
Andre Schembri said that this was an important game for Malta ahead of the UEFA Nations League. He said that no one has a guaranteed place and therefore all players have to give their hundred percent.
Schembri added that before the team used to play too defensive and now the team is more creative and more balanced.
“With Apollon, we play a lot of possession, the same as we are doing here. It is more sustainable as you have more energy and do not have to chase the ball all the time.”
Saintfiet would not reveal the starting line-up despite admitting that Andrei Agius would play in midfield.
Henry Bonello is expected to start in goal with Ryan Camilleri and Zach Muscat as central defenders, Steve Borg or Myles Beerman and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Andrei Agius and Rowen Muscat as central midfielders, Andre Schembri and Luke Gambin on the wings with Michael Mifsud and Jean Paul Farrugia in attack.
The other players in the squad are Andrew Hogg, Steve Sultana, Cain Attard, Jean Borg, Michael Johnson, Roderick Briffa, Triston Caruana, Paul Fenech, Steve Pisani, Siraj Arab Eddin and Alfred Effiong.
Luxembourg are coming from a 2-1 win over Hungary in November after defeating Albania 2-1 in another friendly in June and Belarus 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier in August.
The players selected by Luxembourg coach Luc Holtz are:
Alves Da Mota Daniel (Racing FC Union Luxembourg), Barreiro Martins Leandro (1. FSV Mainz 05 – GER), Bohnert Florian (FC Schalke 04 – GER), Carlson Dirk (Grasshopper Club Zürich – SWI), Czekanowicz Youn (KAA Gent – BEL), Deville Maurice (FC Waldhof Mannheim – GER), Gerson Lars (IFK Norrköping – SWE), Hall Tim (K. Lierse S.K. – BEL), Jänisch Mathias (FC Differdange 03), Jans Laurent (Waasland-Beveren – BEL), Mahmutovic Enes (Middlesbrough FC – ENG), Malget Kevin (F91 Dudelange), Martins Da Graca Marvin (Jeunesse Esch), Martins Pereira Christopher (FC Bourg en Bresse Péronnas 01 – FRA), Moris Anthony (KV Malines – BEL), Ostrowski Jan (Eintracht Frankfurt – GER), Philipps Chris (Legia Warszawa – POL), Rodrigues Gouveia Gerson (FC Sheriff Tiraspol – MOL), Schon Ralph (FC Una Strassen), Sinani Danel (F91 Dudelange), Skenderovic Aldin (SV 07 Elversberg – GER), Thill Vincent (FC Metz – FRA), Turpel David (F91 Dudelange)
Malta and Luxembourg met five times – twice at home and three times away from home. Following a 1-1 draw in a friendly match in January 1970, Luxembourg registered two narrow wins in the EURO 96 qualifiers. In a friendly match in August 2003, the two teams shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw while in June 2012, a brace by Michael Mifsud gave Malta a 2-0 win at the Stade Josy Barthel.
Malta vs Luxembourg will be played at the National Stadium on Thursday 22nd, kick-off at 18:00. Tickets cost €5 while club season card holders and children under the age of 12 enter for free.