As part of the preparations ahead of next month’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Bulgarian and Italy, Malta takes on Northern Ireland in a friendly match at the National Stadium on Wednesday, kick-off at 19:30.
Malta is coming from a most positive run of five wins out of the last five friendly matches, defeating the Central African Republic at home, Liechtenstein at home and away and against Luxembourg and San Marino in another two matches away from home.
National coach Pietro Ghedin said that since his arrival here nine months ago, he has been working hard and the team is on the right track. Under his guidance, Malta played six matches – the friendly matches against Luxembourg, San Marino and Liechtenstein and three World Cup qualifiers against Armenia, Italy and the Czech Republic.
The Malta coach is aware the game against Northern Ireland will be a difficult test saying that the Irish players are ‘fighters’. He said he watched the games played by the Irish against Portugal and Azerbaijan, both ending in 1-1 draws. Comparing this test with previous friendly matches, he said that sometimes playing against smaller countries, such as Liechtenstein or San Marino, is more difficult since there the team has everything to lose.
Malta and Northern Ireland met six times with the Irish winning five times. Malta managed to hold them in a 1-1 draw in the last encounter between the two countries in August 2005.
Ghedin said this game is still important as it gives a clear indication of the players’ physical condition and other aspects, including their personality. He said he is glad the players are giving their hundred per cent but as a coach, he always demands more.
The Malta coach had to leave Roderick Briffa and Jonathan Caruana out of the squad as they are injured. He was due to include Daniel Bogdanovic but since the Valletta striker was declared unfit, he recalled Ryan Fenech. Edward Herrera should be fully fit despite a slight injury. He admitted Paul Fenech will probably replace Roderick Briffa in midfield.
Asked whether he will be including Balzan defender Jacob Borg, Ghedin said he hoped to include him as a substitute. He said by selecting such players, he is trying to stimulate younger players and also stimulate clubs to focus on youths. Ghedin said the door was open for all and his objective was to find young players who eventually will establish themselves in the national team.
Photos (1 and 2): Copyright © domenic aquilina/MFA
Captain Michael Mifsud appealed for support, saying that in recent matches, the team had good performances and managed to obtain good results. The Valletta striker said this was the result of the team’s hard work. He said that with the backing of the supporters, the team could do better and eventually even get positive results against strong countries.
Justin Haber is expected to guard the posts once again with Luke Dimech and Andrei Agius as central defenders with Alex Muscat and Clayton Failla on the flanks, Paul Fenech and Gareth Sciberras as holding midfielders, Edward Herrera, Andre Schembri and Andrew Cohen in midfield behind all-time top-scorer Michael Mifsud.
Photo (3): Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar / MFA
The squad is made up of:
goalkeepers Justin Haber (Birkirkara), Andrew Hogg (Enosis Neon Paralimni – CYP);
defenders Andrei Agius (Latina – ITA), Jacob Dominico Borg (Balzan), Ryan Camilleri (Hibs), Luke Dimech (Valletta), Clayton Failla (Hibs), Alex Muscat (Sliema), Joseph Zerafa (Birkirkara);
midfielders Shaun Bajada (Sliema), Paul Fenech (Birkirkara), Ryan Fenech (Valletta), Edward Herrera (Birkirkara), Gareth Sciberras (Birkirkara);
forwards Andrew Cohen (Hibs), Michael Mifsud (Valletta), Andre Schembri (Omonia Nicosia – CYP), Terence Vella (Hamrun).
The game will be controlled by Bulgarian officials – referee Nikolay Yordanov assisted by Diyan Valkov and Martin Margaritov with Alan Mario Sant as fourth official.
The gates will open at 18:00.
West Stand A will be reserved for Irish supporters while West C, Millennium D, Millenium F and the South Stand will be reserved for the Maltese. Tickets will be available at the gates, from the respective stand, except for South Stand tickets which can be bought from the West C ticket booth.
Ticket prices are as follows: West A & C (upper side) – €25, West A & C (lower side) – €15, Millennium D and F – €8 euro, South Stand – €5. Children under the age of 12 – €2.