Malta faces Portugal in Guimarães

The Malta national team faces a most difficult task on Wednesday night as the boys in red take on Portugal in one of the matches from the final round of Group 1 in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The game will be played at the Estádio D. Afonso Henriques in Guimarães, kick-off at 20:45 CET.
A most important game for the team led by Carlos Queiroz as they need the three points in order to make sure of the runner-up position in the group. In fact, following a 3-0 win over Hungary, Portugal managed to leapfrog Sweden into second place as the latter were beaten 1-0 by Denmark. The Danish won Group 1 to secure a place in South Africa.
Following a fine performance in the EURO 2008 qualifying campaign where Malta obtained five points from twelve matches, scoring ten goals, Malta’s performance in these qualifiers was quite disappointing. In nine matches, Malta claimed just one point in a goalless draw with Albania earlier this year. Even worse is the scoring record as Malta is the only European country who failed to score a goal in this campaign.
Against Sweden last month, Malta was unlucky to lose narrowly with an unfortunate own goal giving the visitors the three points. The team’s performance was quite positive and a similar performance is necessary for Malta to limit the damages against the Portuguese.
Malta suffered a narrow 1-2 defeat to Angola in a friendly in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal last Saturday. A game in which the Maltese managed to take the lead but soon had to succumb to the African side whose main qualities were the fast movement and physical strength.
From the team which faced Angola, John Buttigieg is expected to make a few changes. Goalkeeper Andrew Hogg will guard the posts. In defence, Emanuel Muscat should be confirmed on the right flank with Clayton Failla and Ian Azzopardi fighting for the other place on the left. Should Brian Said recover fully, he will start as one of the two central defenders together with Kenneth Scicluna. Otherwise Jonathan Caruana would make it to the starting line-up as well.
Jamie Pace should make way for Gilbert Agius who would join John Hutchinson in front of defence. Roderick Briffa, Andrew Cohen and Shaun Bajada should be confirmed in midfield with Michael Mifsud once again taking the role of the only striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Other players at the disposal of Buttigieg are Mario Muscat, Ryan Fenech, Kevin Sammut and George Mallia.
On Sunday, the Portuguese Football Federation confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo has been ruled out of the game against Malta after limping off the pitch in the 3-0 win over Hungary on Saturday. Ironically, the Real Madrid striker had also missed the clash between Malta vs Portugal in the first group match. 
That was the ninth clash between Malta and Portugal. The only positive result for Malta was the 2-2 draw in Madeira in March 1987 in a match from the EURO 88 qualifiers. The first two clashes were part of the 1986 World Cup qualifiers with Portugal winning 3-1 at Ta’ Qali and 3-2 at home. Despite the draw in Madeira, Portugal won 1-0 at Ta’ Qali in the other match from the EURO 88 qualifiers. Portugal won 1-0 at Ta’ Qali and 5-0 at home in the EURO 92 qualifiers and then in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers, they won 1-0 at Ta’ Qali and 4-0 at home.
Speaking on Tuesday, Queiroz appealed for responsibility and commitment ahead of this game. 
“There is anxiety but the same motivation and desire to do well and obtain the three points. We must fight for victory right from the first to the last minute. So far, the players have been fantastic on the commitment and faith, fighting in several games from beginning to end. At this point, we have three more points to take in order to move another step forward,” he stressed. 
Queiroz said there was no easy games and that “the points do not fall from heaven. We need to work hard, with better concentration and from the first to the last minute. Play to win and show the strength of our team, exposing the weaknesses of another. Otherwise things do not work.”
The Portuguese coach is not expected to rest Duda, Raul Meireles, Nani and Liedson although they risk missing the first leg of the play-offs should they get a yellow card.
With Nani being the favourite to replace Ronaldo, the starting line-up is expected to be: Eduardo, Bruno Alves, Bosingwa, Duda, Ricardo Carvalho, Nani, Pedro Mendes, Liedson, Deco, Simao, Raul Meireles.
Only a win would do for Portugal. Sweden, on the other hand, pin their hopes on Malta holding Portugal in a draw and they beat Albania at home.
The match will be controlled by Irish referee Alan Kelly, who will be assisted by assistant referees Marc Douglas and Kenneth Hennessy and fourth official Anthony Buttimer.