Following the 3-1 defeat to Kosovo on Thursday, Malta faces another difficult test on Sunday as it takes on Azerbaijan at the Baku Olimpiya Stadionu, kick-off 18:00.
Malta lost 3-1 two out of the three matches played so far against the Faroe Islands and Kosovo but obtained its only point so far in a 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan last month. However this will be no easy game as Azerbaijan will be all out to claim the three points on order to maintain the challenge for the top spot in the group. After being held in a goalless draw by Kosovo in Baku and the draw at Ta’ Qali, Azerbaijan made their intentions clear with a 3-0 win away from home against the Faroe Islands on Thursday.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/MFA
On Sunday, Malta coach Ray Farrugia will be once again unable to field his best formation as although Ryan Camilleri is set to start after sustaining an injury in training and missing the Kosovo clash and Joseph Zerafa will be back after serving a one-match ban, captain Michael Mifsud is ruled out after being sent off in the Kosovo game.
Farrugia is therefore set to start with Hogg in goal, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri at the back, Joseph Mbong and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Rowen Muscat and Paul Fenech in midfield with Andre Schembri and Juan Corbalan supporting the only striker – either Jean Paul Farrugia or Alfred Effiong.
Addressing the media on Saturday, Ray Farrugia said “We know that tomorrow (Sunday) we are in a for a very difficult game. Azerbaijan are coming from a good 3-0 win over Faroe Islands whereas we had a very difficult match away to Kosovo. But, this is another game and as always, our aim is to give our utmost and strive to obtain a result. We must remain positive.”
“I take the opportunity to congratulate the Malta Under-21 team for their win over Hungary. This augurs well for the future. We are in a process of transition as we’re trying to introduce more young, under-21 players in the senior squad but we need to be patient. This will not happen overnight. Joseph Mbong and Juan Corbalan played against Kosovo and we also have Jake Grech with us. We plan to bring in more young players but it’s a gradual process. We will suffer along the way but I’m convinced that we will bear the fruit of this work in the future.”
Malta defender Andrei Agius added “I agree with what the coach has said. Every match is difficult for us but we always try to play our game. Azerbaijan are a good team but we have our gameplan, our tactics and we will give everything to take something from this match.”
“If we take Kosovo as an example, it’s easy to see why they are already strong. They are a new nation for UEFA but if you look at their players, where they play at club level and also the nations they represented before opting to play for Kosovo, you will see that their presence in this division is temporary. I see them in Pot 3 or 4 in the future, but they don’t belong to this category.”
“The difference between us, Kosovo, Azerbaijan etc is simple, it’s down to a simple word… being professional. We need to have a system where the players and athletes are true professionals 365 days a year but the current situation not only in Maltese football but sports in general is not like that at the moment. And it’s not only the players but the whole industry that needs to step up to professionalism. This is the only road to success for us,” concluded Agius.
Malta and Azerbaijan met twice in Baku. In August 2013, Azerbaijan registered a comfortable 3-0 win in a friendly match while in March 2015, Azerbaijan won 2-0 in a EURO 2016 qualifier.
The match on Sunday will be controlled by Croatian officials, namely
referee Ivan Bebek,
Assistant referees Tomislav Petrović and Miro Grgić, Additional assistant referees Mario Zebec and Goran Gabrilo and Fourth official Goran Pataki.