Malta aims for good performance in Piraeus

After being unlucky to lose with a stoppage-time goal last March, Malta will be aiming for a good performance as it takes on Greece once again, this time at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus on Saturday, kick-off at 20:30 CET.

Malta still lies at the bottom of the table without any points after playing five matches – the other four defeats being to Israel in Tel Aviv, Latvia at Ta’ Qali, Georgia in Tbilisi and Croatia in Zagreb.

Malta coach John Buttigieg admitted on Friday that this second game against Greece in just over two months will be another difficult game for Malta.

“We will definitely try our best as we did in the other game. Hopefully it will be another good performance for the team as it was in the other game but with a better result,” said Buttigieg.

For this game, John Buttigieg will be making at least one change in the line-up as Marsaxlokk defender Carlo Mamo is not part of the squad. Valletta’s Jamie Pace, who had been included as a substitute in the last game, was also left out of the squad. On the other hand, Paul Fenech and Ivan Woods were back in the eighteen-man squad.

The Malta coach is not expected to make much changes, therefore starting with Justin Haber in goal, Jonathan Caruana and Andrei Agius as central defenders, Roderick Briffa and possibly Shaun Bajada on the flanks. Gareth Sciberras and John Hutchinson will be employed as holding midfielders with Daniel Bogdanovic as right wing and Andrew Cohen or Ryan Fenech on the left. Michael Mifsud and Andre Schembri will be playing up front.

The Malta eighteen-man squad is in fact made up of:
goalkeepers Justin Haber (Ferencvaros), Andrew Hogg (Valletta);
defenders Edward Herrera (Hibs), Jonathan Caruana (Valletta), Andrei Agius (Birkirkara), Shaun Bajada (Birkirkara), Joseph Zerafa (Birkirkara);
midfielders Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Clayton Failla (Sliema), John Hutchinson (Central Coast Mariners), Paul Fenech (Birkirkara), Ryan Fenech (Valletta), Gareth Sciberras (Marsaxlokk);
forwards Daniel Bogdanovic (Sheffield United), Andrew Cohen (Hibs), Michael Mifsud (Qormi), Andre Schembri (Ferencvaros), Ivan Woods (Floriana).

Unlike matches played at home where Malta always managed to put on fine displays in the previous five encounters, facing Greece away from home has always been a very difficult task. After losing 2-0 in a European Championship qualifier in 1971, Malta suffered three heavy defeats 4-0 in 1975, 4-0 in 1990 and 5-0 in 2007 – three European Championship qualifiers.

No result other than a win satisfies Greece as they aim at returning on top of Group F after Croatia defeated Georgia 2-1 on Friday to move first. A win would put Greece on fourteen points, one ahead of Croatia.

The hosts will be unable to field their best formation due to the absence of a number of players. Two uncapped players were in fact included in the squad as Schalke 04 central defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos and 22-year-old PAOK striker Stefanos Athanasiadis were selected for the first time. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Giorgos Tzavellas are suspended – the first after being sent off in the Malta game and the latter after collecting a second yellow card. No less than three goalkeepers are ruled out injured – Alexandros Tzorvas, Kostas Chalkias and Michalis Sifakis. Nikos Liberopoulos and Celtic FC’s Giorgos Samaras are also on the casualty list.

The absence of these players does not shift Buttigieg’s plans. In fact, the Malta coach stressed that Greece have several good players at their disposal who could replace the injured and suspended ones.

Stefanos Kotsolis is therefore set to start in goal unless Fernando Santos decides to hand Dimitris Konstantopoulos his debut. Kyriakos Papadopoulos joins Vangelis Moras in the heart of defence with Vassilis Torossidis and Nikos Spyropoulos as flank defenders.

Alexandros Tziolis joins the experienced Kostas Katsouranis and Giorgos Karagounis in midfield with Sotiris Ninis and Giannis Fetfatzidis supporting main striker Dimitris Salpingidis.

The squad selected by coach Fernando Santos is made up of:
Goalkeepers: Dimitris Konstantopoulos (Kerkyra FC), Stefanos Kotsolis (Panathinaikos FC).
Defenders: Loukas Vyntra (Panathinaikos FC), Vassilis Torossidis (Olympiacos FC), Vangelis Moras (Bologna FC), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (FC Schalke 04), Avraam Papadopoulos (Olympiacos FC), Nikos Spyropoulos (Panathinaikos FC).
Midfielders: Alexandros Tziolis (Real Racing Club), Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos FC), Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos FC), Pantelis Kafes (AEK FC), Giorgos Fotakis (PAOK FC), Sotiris Ninis (Panathinaikos FC), Panagiotis Kone (Brescia Calcio), Giannis Fetfatzidis (Olympiacos FC).
Forwards: Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Panathinaikos FC), Dimitris Salpingidis (PAOK FC), Kostas Mitroglou (Olympiacos FC), Stefanos Athanasiadis (PAOK FC).