Under-21 side aims at extending positive streak

The Malta Under-21 side will be aiming at obtaining another positive result on Thursday as the boys led by Ray ‘Zazu’ Farrugia take on Slovenia in another match from Group 2 of the UEFA Under-21 Championship at the Hibernians Stadium, kick-off at 19:00.

Malta had an exceptional start in the group after holding Finland in a goalless draw and defeating Lithuania 2-1 in two games away from home. Two positive results which put Malta on top of the group, on level points with Finland who had defeated Slovenia 1-0 in another match. Malta’s opponents on Thursday – Slovenia – are third in the group as they beat Lithuania away from home before losing to Finland.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Malta coach Ray Farrugia said “We started the group on a most positive note. They were difficult games but our performance was a very good one. Now we are looking forward towards these two games.”

The Under-21 side will in fact be in action once again on Tuesday as it hosts Finland.

Photos: Copyright © domenic aquilina/MFA

Ray Farrugia revealed that following the draw, former national team coach Dusan Fitzel told him that it would be difficult to obtain any points but he replied “time will tell.” In fact, Malta has already collected four points from the first two matches – only two points short of Farrugia’s target for the whole qualifying campaign.

The Malta Under-21 coach said that before the first two qualifiers away from home, he was confident due to “enormous talent” in the squad. He stressed that these players are a clear sign that Maltese football has a bright future.

Farrugia said he tells players to go out and give their maximum and be proud of the shirt they were.

After the two positive results, the Under-21 coach expects the Maltese to be behind the team as this would motivate his players even further.

Assistant coach Ronald Vella, on the other hand, said that after collecting four points in the previous games, our opponents will show greater determination when facing Malta. Therefore this was an extra hurdle that the team had to beat.

Sliema Wanderers midfielder Mark Scerri said he is looking forward towards Thursday’s game. He said the team was working hard to do well and hopefully achieve positive results. These chances are boosted by the fact that Malta will be playing five consecutive matches at home in just a few weeks’ time. Scerri explained that the fact that the coaches are showing great motivation, the players are even more motivated and gain more confidence.

On the other hand, Matthew Gauci of Hamrun Spartans appealed for support, saying the players believe they could achieve more positive results.

For this game, Ray Farrugia will wait till the very last minute to check on the fitness of Leighton Grech who sustained a hamstring injury and Rowen Muscat who was ill for the past twenty-four hours. Sannat Lions goalkeeper Adrian Parnis, who was part of the squad for the previous two games, is unavailable as he is recovering from injuries sustained during an accident.

The players at the disposal of Ray Farrugia and Ronald Vella are:
goalkeepers Daniel Balzan (St. Andrews), Steve Sultana (Qormi);
defenders Owen Bugeja (Floriana), Yessous Camilleri (Balzan), Matthew Gauci (Hamrun), Ishmael Grech (Pietà), Luca Martinelli (Mosta), Zach Muscat (Pietà);
midfielders Clyde Borg (Floriana), Triston Caruana (Hibs), Bjorn Kristensen (Hibs), Rowen Muscat (Birkirkara), Mark Scerri (Sliema);
forwards Miguel Ciantar (Balzan), Jean Paul Farrugia (Marsaxlokk), Leighton Grech (Birkirkara), Steve Pisani (Hibs), Terence Vella (Birkirkara).

The Slovenian squad boasts top-level players such as Rene Krhin who has just been transferred from Inter to Bologna and others based in clubs around Europe, including Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and England.

In the previous qualifying campaign, Slovenia also was part of the same group with Malta. They won 2-0 at the Hibs Stadium and 1-0 at home.

Tickets for the game cost €4 each and will be available at the gates.