National coach Pietro Ghedin named Hibernians midfielder Ayrton Azzopardi and Hamrun Spartans striker Terence Vella in the final eighteen-man squad for next Friday’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic at the Doosan Arena in Plzen.
While Vella’s inclusion was expected due to the absence of two key strikers, the inclusion of Ayrton Azzopardi comes as a major surprise considering that the promising Hibs youngster is yet to play is yet to make a first start for the Paolites in the Premier League.
He was only included as a substitute twice this season in the games against Rabat and Mosta and three times last season.
Terence Vella, on the other hand, was the leading scorer for the Under-21 side in the past Under-21 qualifying campaign, scoring five goals in ten matches.
Ghedin could not count on Valletta midfielder Ryan Fenech, Mosta’s Daniel Bogdanovic and Hibernians striker Andrew Cohen as they are all ruled out injured.
Apart from the injured Andrew Cohen, the other players to be dropped from the provisional squad were Henry Bonello, Joseph Zerafa, Edmond Agius and Julian Galea. Canada-based Etienne Barbara was not even included in the provisional squad after he was retained on the bench in the games against Armenia and Italy.
The squad which will travel to the Czech Republic on Wednesday, via Vienna, is therefore made up of:
goalkeeper Justin Haber (Mosta), Andrew Hogg (Enosis Neon Paralimini);
defenders Andrei Agius (Latina), Steve Borg (Valletta), Ryan Camilleri (Hibs), Jonathan Caruana (Valletta), Luke Dimech (Mosta), Edward Herrera (Birkirkara), Alex Muscat (Sliema);
midfielders Ayrton Azzopardi (Hibs), Shaun Bajada (Valletta), Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Paul Fenech (Birkirkara), John Mintoff (Sliema), Gareth Sciberras (Birkirkara);
forwards Michael Mifsud (Valletta), Andre Schembri (Omonia Nicosia), Terence Vella (Hamrun).
Photo: Copyright © Joe Borg / MFA