After the heavy 6-0 defeat to Bulgaria, Malta will be all out to regain lost pride as it hosts Italy in another match from the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:45.
This will be the fifth match from Group B for Malta after a narrow win to Armenia at Ta’ Qali, a 2-0 defeat to Italy in Modena, a 3-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in Plzen and Friday’s defeat to Bulgaria in Sofia.
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Addressing the media on Monday, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin admitted that the players’ performance against Bulgaria was a most disappointing one and said that the condition of the pitch did not help either. Ghedin said that no matter the opponent, the players should give their very best. Something the players have done in previous matches.
The Malta coach would not confirm which changes will he make for Tuesday’s game. He said he needed to consult his staff to check on the condition of some players and in particular, Gareth Sciberras, who had to be left out of the starting line-up in Sofia. Ghedin said one had to consider several factors before making his final selection. These included the player’s attitude in training, his physical condition and the psychological aspect as for example before such a game, some players would be excited while others would be under pressure.
Justin Haber, Gareth Sciberras and Andrew Cohen may be back in the starting line-up after being retained on the bench against Bulgaria for different reasons. The starting line-up would, in that case, be Justin Haber, Jonathan Caruana, Andrei Agius, Luke Dimech, Clayton Failla, Gareth Sciberras, Roderick Briffa, Edward Herrera, Andre Schembri, Andrew Cohen (Ryan Fenech), Michael Mifsud.
Meanwhile Andrei Agius denied claims that the performance against Bulgaria was the result of plays being more focussed on the Italy game. Gareth Sciberras, on the other hand, said that players are now looking forward for this game and are eager to give their very best as always.
The Italian squad arrived on Monday evening and the contingent was transferred immediately to the National Stadium where Italian coach Cesare Prandelli addressed the media. Referring to comments given last week that Malta was a more organised side than Brazil, Prandelli said that he was referring to the game in Modena where the team was well-organised, giving them a hard time. He said that the fact that Malta national team players train together on a weekly basis makes them feel more like a club.
Although he described Michael Mifsud as Malta’s most dangerous players, he said the strength of the Maltese was team-work. The Italy coach said the Maltese were able to keep them at bay and make it difficult for them. He went on to say that only if his players showed the same determination, they would achieve their objective. Otherwise the team will struggle as it was the case in Modena.
Prandelli warned his players that they could not afford taking the game lightly, saying that they had to stay focussed and respect their opponents as in football, a single episode could make the whole difference.
Italy lead Group B after winning three of the four matches played. After a 2-2 draw with Bulgaria away from home, Italy defeated Malta 2-0, Armenia 3-1 away from home and Denmark 3-1 at home. They lead the way one point ahead of Bulgaria despite having a game in hand.
The Italy coach would not reveal whether he will be including Alessio Cerci of Torino or Emanuele Giaccherini of Juventus. The latter seems favourite to start in a line-up made up of six Juventus players and five from Milan, namely Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli, Pirlo, Marchisio and Giaccherini; Abate, De Sciglio, Montolivo, El Shaarawy and Balotelli.
Cesare Prandelli admitted he is worried about the strong winds, saying it affects the players’ concentration.
This will be the third clash between Malta and Italy at Ta’ Qali. In December 1986, Italy defeated Malta 2-0 in a EURO 88 qualifier and in December 1992, Italy registered a 2-1 win in a World Cup qualifier.
The game will be controlled by Dutch referee Serdar Gozubuyuk who will be assisted by assistant referees Charles Schaap and Hessel Steegstra and fourth official Richard Liesveld.
Pre-match entertainment will start at 19:15 and will include the participation of Ivan Grech from Wintermoods and Tenishia. The compere will be Colin Fitz.
Activities at the Fan Park which has been set up at the MFCC, start at 16:00. The Fan Park, which will be on a free entrance basis, will promote further the national team and help generate further enthusiasm among fans. At the same time, it provides the opportunity for sponsors to meet fans and promote their products and services.
Apart from the MFA main partners, namely FXDD and CISK Lager, other partners in this event are PBS Ltd, MFCC, South End Core, Pepsi and Vibe FM.
Activities on the stage and the big screen will be presented by Jonathan Abel and JD Patrick from Vibe FM and will include a live band performance by RUG (Gianni Zammit), highlights from previous matches, a live link with the arrival of the teams at the National Stadium, a live link with the dressing rooms and the teams’ warm-up, live interviews and the live match transmission.
Food and beverage stalls will be available.
National team and MFA sponsors together with other commercial entities will set up stalls from which they will be distributing promotional material and freebies and promote offers to national team fans. The MFA will also have its own stall from which national team merchandising will be sold.
The kids’ area will feature activities such as face painting, bouncing castle and bungie runs.