The Malta Under-21 side will be facing Montenegro in a friendly match at the Hibernians Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 18:00. This will be the first official match for the Under-21 side since Ray ‘Zazu’ Farrugia and his assistant Ronald Vella took over the team last January.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Farrugia said he was impressed by the team over these two-months-and-a-half and there is a great bond between the players. He said that although the squad is not yet complete – with other the team is moving in the right direction.
Farrugia said the friendly match against Montenegro will be a good test for the Under-21 side ahead of the first two UEFA Under-21 European Championship qualifiers against Finland and Lithuania away from home early in June.
The Malta Under-21 coach argued that although all matches are difficult, if one prepared well, anything can happen and admitted that he is aiming for two wins in the group.
Changing the mentality is key for improvement according to Farrugia. He said that during the four years as Under-21 coach, there was progress in this aspect and his objective now is to build on this by instilling a winning mentality. The Malta Under-21 coach said he still has a lot to offer to the national team sector, saying he deserved to be there.
Ray Farrugia is worried some of the Under-21 national team players are not playing regularly with their clubs or play in lower divisions. He said that one cannot force clubs to make use of these players especially since most clubs have four or even more foreign players registered on their books. It was of utmost importance to exploit the potential of these players and players who are failing to make it to the starting line-up of their club should work harder to prove their potential.
MFA Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Vassallo said the new league format with a Premier League with twelve clubs should provide such players ample space to shine as the more established clubs could afford fielding such players when facing smaller clubs.
Under-21 national team captain Rowen Muscat of Birkirkara said he witnessed a change in the team’s atmosphere and said that all the players feel united as a team. He also said that he feels the change in mentality and stressed that the team will not only aim for a good performance but fight for a positive result.
Vittoriosa Stars striker Leighton Grech said the team is prepared well and promised they will be giving their utmost in the coming matches.
When speaking about Friday’s opponents, Ray Farrugia said that Montenegro’s style of play is ideal for attacking. He said that last year, Montenegro drew with Ukraine and Portugal and defeated Hungary in three friendly matches away from home.
Farrugia announced that the starting formation will be as follows: Steve Sultana (Nadur), Luca Martinelli (Melita), Zach Muscat (Pietà), Owen Bugeja (Floriana), Matthew Robert Gauci (Hibs); Rowen Muscat (Birkirkara), Clyde Borg (Floriana), Leighton Grech (Vittoriosa), Triston Caruana (Hibs); Miguel Ciantar (Sliema), Terence Vella (Birkirkara).
He stressed that young players who have the potential will be given a chance, citing the example of Zach Muscat, who is still a member of the Under-19 side.
The other players at his disposal are Adrian Parnis (Sannat), Kane Paul Farrugia (Mosta), Ishmael Grech (Pietà), Jonathan Xerri (Vittoriosa), Lee James Agius (Hamrun), Sheldon Grech (Pietà), Dylan Grima (Balzan).
The match will be controlled by referee Marco Borg who will be assisted by assistant referees Ingmar Spiteri and Joe Camilleri. Chris Lautier will be fourth official.
Photo (1): Copyright © domenic aquilina/MFA
Photo (2): antoine busuttil