Malta takes on Greece in EURO 2012 qualifier

Malta will be facing Greece in another match from Group F of the EURO 2012 Qualifiers at the National Stadium on Saturday, kick-off at 20:30.

The boys in red are yet to collect any points after playing four matches – three defeats away from home to Israel, Georgia and Croatia and a 0-2 loss to Latvia at Ta’ Qali in September.

Addressing the media on Friday, national coach John Buttigieg said that was another difficult match for Malta as Greece was one of the group favourites together with Croatia. He said the visitors had a number of well-established players who base their game on strength.

Captain Michael Mifsud agreed with Buttigieg saying this was a difficult game but said that the players will be giving their hundred per cent to hopefully obtain a good result.

The Malta coach said that the team has been preparing well for the past six weeks and had a good test against Switzerland last month. Buttigieg said that in the game against Switzerland, the locals played particularly well at times. He went on to say that the Maltese always give their maximum although sometimes this is not enough to grab a positive result, due to the strength of their opponents.

Buttigieg revealed there will only be slight changes in the line-up from the last game. For this game, the Malta coach could in fact count on Sheffield United striker Daniel Bogdanovic and Central Coast Mariners midfielder John Hutchinson.

All the nineteen players in the squad are fully fit. In fact, Roderick Briffa has recovered fully from an injury which ruled him out of the last two outings with Valletta.

When asked whether the training allowance issue distracted his players, the Malta coach said the players were professional enough to set this issue aside and concentrate on the game. Discussions are in fact expected to resume after the game although MFA Chief Executive Officer said this issue was part of the reforms in the national team sector and is aimed at improving the level of the game. He said this was part of the MFA’s new vision and was never a problem about finances.

Buttigieg is aiming at a good performance and hopefully a good result from this game. He does not feel the rather positive results obtained in games at home against Greece will put pressure on his players.

Malta hosted Greece four times in European Championship qualifiers. Following a 1-1 draw in October 1970, Malta defeated Greece 2-0 in February 1975. Malta held Greece in another 1-1 draw in December 1991 and four years ago, in March 2007, a controversial penalty handed the Greeks a narrow 1-0 at Ta’ Qali in a EURO 2008 qualifier.

Buttigieg has the following nineteen players at his disposal:
goalkeepers Andrew Hogg, Justin Haber;
defenders Joseph Zerafa, Jonathan Caruana; Carlo Mamo, Clayton Failla, Roderick Briffa, Edward Herrera, Andrei Agius;
midfielders Jamie Pace, John Hutchinson, Gareth Sciberras, Paul Fenech, Ryan Fenech, Shaun Bajada, Andrew Cohen;
forwards Micheal Mifsud, Andre Schembri, Daniel Bogdanovic.

Hogg is expected to start in goal with Briffa and Failla on the flanks, Caruana and Agius as central defenders. Hutchinson and Pace should start as central midfielders with Bogdanovic and Cohen on the flanks. Schembri will partner with Mifsud in attack.

Greece collected eight points so far from Group F and are currently second two points behind leaders Croatia. After being held in a 1-1 draw by Georgia at home and holding Croatia in a goalless draw in Zagreb, they defeated Latvia 1-0 and Israel 2-1 in two games at home.

Coach Fernando Santos said the team trained hard over the past days and now eye the three points from what he considers to be a very difficult match against Malta which would be another important step towards qualification for the EURO 2012 final phase.

The Greece coach said that the most important issue for them is to get the three points, no matter if the a goal is scored in the first or the last minute. He said they need to be focused throughout the entire 90 minutes, to be well organized and create chances as he believes that the individuals skills and ability of his players can play a major part during the match and lead them to victory. He said that they are the favorites to win, but they have to prove that on the pitch.

Fernando Santos concluded that Malta is a team that has nothing to lose and therefore will play with no pressure for the result and try to get the best out of the match. He said that after watching Malta in action, he can say that they are a team that is working very hard on the pitch, running with or without the ball, they have 3-4 quality players and they are extremely strong in counter-attacks.

The squad at his disposal is made up of:
Goalkeepers: Alexandros Tzorvas (Panathinaikos FC), Kostas Chalkias (PAOK FC).

Defenders: Loukas Vyntra (Panathinaikos FC), Vassilis Torosidis (Olympiacos FC), Giorgos Tzavellas (Eintracht Frankfurt), Vangelis Moras (Bologna FC), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiacos FC), Socratis Papastathopoulos (AC Milan), Panagiotis Lagos (AEK Athens FC).

Midfielders: Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos FC), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos FC), Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos FC), Giannis Fetfatzidis (Olympiacos FC), Panagiotis Kone (Brescia Calcio), Pantelis Kafes (AEK Athens FC).

Forwards: Giorgos Samaras (Celtic FC), Kostas Mitroglou (Panionios GSS), Nikos Lyberopoulos (AEK Athens FC), Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK FC).
Tickets will be on sale at the gates at the following prices:
West Stand (Upper) €25
West Stand (Lower) €10
Millennium Stand €5
South Stand €3

West Stand A will be reserved for visiting fans.

Photos: Copyright © domenic aquilina/MFA