The Malta Under-21 hosts Austria in a friendly match at the Hibernians Stadium on Wednesday, kick-off at 14:30 as the team continues its preparation ahead of the UEFA Under-21 Championship qualifiers which get underway in June.
Malta was drawn in a tough group together with Poland, Greece, Turkey and Sweden. The team travels to Poland for the first game.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, Under-21 coach Ray Farrugia admitted that Malta was drawn in a very difficult group and many would think that the team would be unable to win any points. However Farrugia feels that this is the challenge – winning points. Something he believes the team can achieve.
Farrugia renewed his contract for another two years and by the end of 2014, he would have spent eight years at the helm of the Under-21 side. He said that he works hand-in-hand with Technical Director Robert Gatt and that Gatt is doing a great job in his post. The Under-21 coach said that thing are going in the right way and there is great enthusiasm in the team.
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Ray Farrugia said that the game against Austria will be a very good test as they are ranked 13th and have very strong players, some of whom play in Germany. He said the team compares well with our future opponents – Turkey, Greece and Poland. Therefore this will be a good test ahead of the clash with Poland.
The Under-21 coach said for the team to improve, more friendly matches were necessary. He said that for example, Austria have already played three matches. Althought Robert Gatt does his best to schedule friendly matches, sometimes this is difficult due to the fact that Malta is an island.
Farrugia said the 7-0 win over Italian amateur side ASD Vigor Mellis was a good test as he had the opportunity to see in action the several new players in the squad.
Eight players in the Malta squad have already played for the Under-21 side in the previous qualifying campaign but out of the remaining players, there are several who play regularly in the Premier League and are therefore gaining experience. He said this was important for the players as they can only improve in this way.
Farrugia is willing to add new players, including Louis Cutajar of Norwich United who played in the friendly against Vigor Melis. He is also interested in the Australian-born Cuschieri brothers who have just been offered a trial at West Ham United.
He concluded by appealing for more backing. He said that these young players deserve credit for what they have done so far.
For this game, Farrugia could not count on the injured Ryan Camenzuli and Jurgen Borg. In fact, he is expected to start with Yenz Cini, Ryan Scicluna, Zach Muscat, Matthew Tabone, Sacha Borg, Clyde Borg, Brooke Borg, Steve Pisani, Bjorn Kristensen, Ayrton Azzopardi, Jean Paul Farrugia.
The other players at his disposal are Jean Matthias Vella (Vittoriosa), Christian Grech (Pietà), Ryan Sammut (Tarxien), Johann Bezzina (Hibs), Peter Xuereb (San Gwann), Daren Falzon (Naxxar), Lydon Micallef (Vittoriosa).
Clyde Borg said coach Ray Farrugia managed to give the team a most positive mentality. He said the team is playing offensive football. The team plays its game while respecting opponents.
Irish referee Arnold Hunter will be controlling the game and will be assisted by Richard Storey and Ken Ross. Kevin Azzopardi will be fourth official.