Following a fine second-half performance in the last outing against FYR Macedonia in a friendly match last month, the national team will be aiming for a good start in Group F of the EURO 2012 qualifying round as Malta takes on Israel at the Ramat Gan Stadium, kick-off at 20:15 CET, just five days before another qualifier against Latvia at home.
Malta ended its commitments in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at the bottom of the table with just one point from ten matches. Since then Malta played four friendly matches – a 1-4 defeat to Bulgaria at the Hibs Stadium in November, a narrow 1-2 defeat to Finland in March and a 0-3 defeat to Germany in Aachen before the 1-1 draw with FYR Macedonia. In this latter game, the performance by the Maltese side after the break stunned the visitors. Malta coach John Buttigieg hopes to build on this fine display as the team plays its first game from this qualifying campaign.
Buttigieg is not expected to make much changes from the team which drew with FYR Macedonia except for the inclusion of Maltese-Australian defender Manny Muscat.
Andrew Hogg is therefore expected to start in goal with Andrei Agius and Jonathan Caruana as central defenders, Manny Muscat and Carlo Mamo on the flanks. Ryan Fenech and Jamie Pace should be employed as holding midfielders behind Roderick Briffa, Daniel Bogdanovic and Shaun Bajada. Captain Michael Mifsud will be the only striker.
The other players at the disposal of the Malta coach are Mario Muscat, Edward Herrera, Clayton Failla, Massimo Grima, Paul Fenech, Gareth Sciberras and Andrew Cohen.
Kevin Sammut was unable to make the trip to Israel due to an injury while Anthony Curmi, Joseph Zerafa, Trevor Cilia and Ivan Woods failed to make it to the eighteen-man squad.
As expected, Israel are aiming for a winning start. Coach Luis Fernandez, who has been appointed as Israel coach last March, says a lot of enthusiasm is surrounding the squad.
In their last two outings, they lost 4-1 to Uruguay and 3-0 to Chile in two friendly matches in South America last May.
The players selected by Fernandez are:
goalkeepers Dudu Aouate (Mallorca), Ohad Levita (Waalwijk), Dudu Goresh (Hapoel Akko)
defenders Tal Ben Haim (West Ham), Dekel Keinan (Blackpool), Yoav Ziv (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), Dedi Ben Dayan (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Dani Bondar (Hapoel Tel-Aviv)
midfielders Yossi Benayoun (Chelsea), Tamir Cohen (Bolton Wanderers), Almog Cohen (Nürnburg), Biram Kayal (Celtic), Avihai Yadin (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Eran Zahavi (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Gil Vermouth (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Eyal Golasa (Maccabi Haifa), Lior Rafaelov (Maccabi Haifa), Maor Melikson (Hapoel Beer-Sheva)
forwards Shlomi Arbeitman (Gent), Etey Schechter (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Ben Sahar (Hapoel Tel-Aviv), Yuval Avidor (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), Eliran Atar (Maccabi Tel-Aviv)
Malta and Israel met six times. The Israeli won four times with the other two games ending in draws. In the last meeting between the two countries, at the neutral venue of Antalya – Turkey in September 2003, Malta went close to beating Israel in a EURO 2004 qualifier. A late Pini Balili equaliser secured a 2-2 draw for Israel, denying Malta a famous victory. Michael Mifsud and David Carabott had earlier fired the visitors into the lead following Haim Revivo’s first-half opener.
Malta had held Israel in a 1-1 draw in a friendly match in Haifa in December 1987.
Malta vs Israel will be controlled by French referee Ennjimi Sai who will be assisted by assistant referees Cano Frederic and Harchay Fredji and fourth official Robert Malek.
After this game, Malta will be facing Latvia at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 19:30.
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