Malta takes on Sweden

It will be an uphill task for Malta as John Buttigieg’s side takes on Sweden on Wednesday at the National Stadium, kick-off at 18:30. Malta met Sweden ten times with the Scandinavian side winning all ten matches. More worrying is the fact that Sweden scored 41 goals in all in these ten matches, conceding just two. 
The last encounter between the two teams at Ta’ Qali was just five years ago when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four in a 7-0 win over the team which was then managed by Horst Heese and assistant coach Carmel Busuttil in a World Cup qualifier. Since then, Malta played another two matches against Sweden. In June 2005 in Gothenburg, Sweden registered a 6-0 win while last June, as part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign, they won 4-0.
On a more positive note, Malta did manage to obtain a couple of encouraging results against the Scandinavian giants, suffering narrow 1-2 defeats in November 1973 in Gzira and November 1985 at Ta’ Qali in two World Cup qualifiers.
For Malta, the game against Sweden will be the penultimate game from these qualifiers. As anticipated by the then Malta national coach Dusan Fitzel just after the draws, this campaign turned out to be a most difficult one with Malta claiming just one point in eight matches – thanks to a goalless draw with Albania last February.
This game will be the first competitive match for new Malta coach John Buttigieg and his assistant Carmel Busuttil since they took over in August. The national team played two friendly matches – one against Georgia last month and another against Cape Verde last Friday. Malta registered a fine 2-0 win against Georgia to bring to an end a prolonged drought both in terms of wins and goals scored. But against Cape Verde, it was all back to square one as the team lacked ideas in a 0-2 defeat to the African republic. 
Therefore the team’s performance needs to improve considerably against the strong Swedish side. 
Addressing the media on Tuesday, John Buttigieg said that the main problem against Cape Verde was the lack of concentration by his players. He said he was not that much disappointed with the team’s performance but the team needed to improve against Sweden mainly by staying fully concentrated throughout the whole ninety minutes. 
Buttigieg said that the fact that Sweden are back on track in the challenge for a place in the World Cup finals following the dramatic win over Hungary makes it more difficult for Malta as the visitors will be all out for the three points. He said that the strength of the Swedish side was the physical strength, determination and never-say-die attitude. Something which Maltese players sometimes lack.
After Wednesday’s game, Buttigieg made three changes to the squad, including Hibs goalkeeper Mario Muscat, Sliema defender Alex Muscat and Valletta midfielder Gilbert Agius. The latter two were left out for the game against Cape Verde as they were recovering from slight injuries.
Goalkeeper Justin Haber, Andrei Agius and Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza made way for these three players with the exclusion of Haber and Italy-based Andrei Agius raising a few eyebrows.
Etienne Barbara and George Mallia were dropped from the provisional squad while Luke Dimech, Terence Scerri and Daniel Bogdanovic were not included. John Hutchinson, on the other hand, was granted permission to stay in Australia.
Buttigieg is expected to make a number of changes from the team which faced Cape Verde.
Goalkeeper Andrew Hogg is expected to be preferred to Mario Muscat with Brian Said and Kenneth Scicluna starting as the two central defenders. On the right flank, the Malta has to decide whether to start with Alex Muscat and relegating Manny Muscat to the bench or starting with Manny Muscat and employing the Sliema defender as a right wing. On the other side, Clayton Failla should be preferred to Shaun Bajada with Ian Azzopardi being the other option.
Jamie Pace should take the role of witholding midfielder. On the right wing, the options are Roderick Briffa, Kevin Sammut or Alex Muscat while the other three midfielders should be Gilbert Agius, Andrew Cohen and Andre Schembri. Michael Mifsud will be once again the only striker.
The full squad at the disposal of Buttigieg is made up of:
goalkeepers Mario Muscat (Hibs), Andrew Hogg (Valletta);
defenders Manny Muscat (Wellington Phoenix), Alex Muscat (Sliema), Brian Said (Marsaxlokk), Jonathan Caruana (Hibs), Ian Azzopardi (Sliema), Clayton Failla (Sliema), Kenneth Scicluna (Valletta);
midfielders Jamie Pace (Valletta), Gilbert Agius (Valletta), Kevin Sammut (Valletta), Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Shaun Bajada (Birkirkara), Ryan Fenech (Sliema);
forwards Andrew Cohen (Hibs), Andre Schembri (SK Karnten), Michael Mifsud (unattached).
Sweden will be all out for the three points in their bid to secure a place in South Africa next year. The 2-1 win in Budapest put them back on track as they closed in on second-placed Hungary narrowing the gap to just one point. With three games to go for each team, Denmark lead the way with 17 points, followed by Hungary on 13 and Sweden on 12. 
Midfielders Christian Wilhelmsson, Viktor Elm and Daniel Andersson and veteran striker Henrik Larsson are all out of the squad which travelled to Malta. The latter three were dropped as they are nursing injuries while Wilhelmsson was dropped due to his recent poor form.
Against Hungary, Sweden coach Lars Lagerback used the following players:
Andreas Isaksson – Mikael Nilsson, Olof Mellberg, Daniel Majstorovic, Behrang Safari – Rasmus Elm, Anders Svensson, Kim Källström, Samuel Holmén (85′ Tobias Hysén) – Johan Elmander (72′ Marcus Berg), Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 
Johan Elmander, Mikael Nilsson and Behrang Safari failed to train on Monday but should be fully fit to play on Wednesday. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on the other hand, is fully recovered although he was in doubt for the last game. Something which could concern the Swedish coach is the fact that Olof Mellberg, Andreas Svensson and Kim Kallstrom all have yellow cards and another caution on Wednesday would rule them out of the decisive clash against group leaders and rivals Denmark.
Tickets will be available at the gates at the following prices: West C Upper – €50; West C Lower €12; Millennium Stand €8 and North/South Stand €5. 
Public Transport will be provided from City Gate, direct to the National Stadium at Ta’ Qali, starting at 17:00. Return service from the National Stadium to Valletta at the end of the match starting at around 21:00.
The gates at the National Stadium will be open to the public two hours prior to match kick-off – that is at 16:30. Prior to the match, starting at 17:15, the MFA will be providing entertainment for the public present at the stadium.
Malta vs Sweden kicks-off at 18:30 and will be controlled by referees from Northern Ireland namely, referee Adrian Mc Court, assistant referees John Mc Dowell and Paul Munn and fourth official David Malcolm.