Malta chases first point in group as it takes on Armenia

malta-in-armenia130606pzcMalta plays its sixth game from Group B of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers as it faces Armenia at the ‘Republican Stadium named after Vazgen Sargsyan’ in Yerevan on Friday, kick-off at 20:00 CET.

Malta suffered five defeats in the first five outings but apart from the 6-0 defeat to Bulgaria, the performances in the other five – home against the same Armenia, home and away against Italy and away to the Czech Republic – were quite encouraging. However Malta still chases its first point in the group, therefore lying at the bottom of the table three points behind Armenia.

Addressing a press conference at the stadium on Thursday, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin said the team has been preparing well for this game after a good performance against Italy in March.

“Against Italy, we played quite well. The Armenia game is not easy. We know that Armenia are a very strong side, having several young but strong players,” said the Malta coach.

This games comes at the end of a long season for the players but still Ghedin is not worried saying the players still find the energy to face such a game.

Photos: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar / MFA

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Armenia had an impressive EURO qualifying campaign but have now collected just three points from the four games played so far. Ghedin said that although their results were disappointing after a good start, he still regards them as one if the strongest teams in the group.

When asked about their qualities, the Malta coach said that they have a good set-up and have five very strong players while most of their players play for professional teams.

Armenia coach Vardar Minasyan admitted that the fact that this was a must-win game increases the pressure on his players.

“There is some pressure but every game, we try to win. We do not say one team is weak, one team is strong,” said Minasyan.

Although Armenia collected just three points so far, they have not given up hopes of clinching one of the top two places in the group. Minasyan said the team will do its best to achieve this objective.

The Maltese will be doing their best to give their opponents a hard time.

“We are not tourists here. We are here to do the best we can. Sometimes one incident can change everything in a game. Football is complicated and no one knows what can happen,” said Ghedin.

“The best thing for a player is to give his heart. Obviously we try to win every game but this is not always possible but at least we do not want to give gifts … we fight,” stressed the Malta coach.

Photo: Copyright © Joe Borg

Ghedin is not particularly concerned about the fact that recent performances by Michael Mifsud for Valletta were below par although he is still considered as our leading striker.

“Mifsud is our captain and he is proud to be our captain. In a game, he can still find the energy,” said Ghedin.

Goalkeeper Justin Haber said that after seven years abroad, he decided to move back to Malta where he was determined to work hard and do his very best. He said that in January, he took a crucial decision to leave Mosta and join Birkirkara and eventually win his first Premier League championship. He said this shows clearly that when you work hard and give everything you can achieve.

Thanks to his fine performances for the Stripes, Haber also regained the number one shirt for Malta.

“Ghedin gave me a chance against Italy and I did my best and now once again I have another opportunity.”

The Birkirkara goalkeeper has no problem finding motivation when playing for Malta.

“When you play for your country, you are proud. In every game, we always make the best that we can. We are here because we are the best (players) in the country and therefore no matter who our opponents are, we do our very best,” concluded Haber.

Three players who were in the squad for the last game against Italy could not make it to the twenty-two man squad which travelled to Yerevan.

Goalkeeper Andrew Hogg is ruled out injured while Andrei Agius and Ryan Fenech were not included for other reasons. Fenech is getting married while Agius dropped out of the squad due to club commitments as his team US Latina Calcio reached the final of the Lega Pro Prima Divisione play-offs which lead to promotion to the Serie B.

Considering the good performance in the last game, it would be no surprise if the Malta coach were to confirm the same starting line-up.

Justin Haber should start in goal with Jonathan Caruana and Ryan Camilleri as central defenders, Ryan Camilleri and Alex Muscat on the flanks, Gareth Sciberras and Roderick Briffa as holding midfielders behind the trio of Edward Herrera, Andre Schembri and Clayton Failla with Michael Mifsud as sole striker.

The full squad which travelled to Yerevan is in fact made up of:
goalkeepers Justin Haber (Birkirkara), Glenn Zammit (Sliema), Mario Muscat (Hibs);
defenders Jacob Borg (Balzan), Alex Muscat (Sliema), Clayton Failla (Hibs), Luke Dimech (Valletta), Jonathan Caruana (Valletta), Justin Grioli (Tarxien), Clifford Gatt Baldacchino (Sliema), Ryan Camilleri (Hibs);
midfielders Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Edward Herrera (Birkirkara), Gareth Sciberras (Birkirkara), Paul Fenech (Birkirkara), Rowen Muscat (Birkirkara), Shaun Bajada (Sliema);
forwards Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza (Birkirkara), Michael Mifsud (Valletta), Andrew Cohen (Hibs), Terence Vella (Hamrun), Andre Schembri (Omonia Nicosia).

Glenn Zammit, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino and Justin Grioli are the only uncapped players in the squad.

The Armenia squad is made up of:
goalkeepers Roman Berezovski, Gevorg Kasparov, Arthur Harutyunyan
defenders Robert Arzumanyan, Valery Alexanyan, Kamo Hovhannisyan, Taron Voskanyan, Varazdat Haroyan, Artyom Khachatryan, Arthur Avagyan
midfielders Karlen Mkrtchyan, David Manoyan, Arthur Yedigaryan, Araz Ozbilis, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcos Pizzelli, Gevorg Ghazaryan, Norayr Aslanyan, Arthur Yuspashyan
forwards Edgar Manucharyan, Yura Movsisyan, Arthur Sarkisov

This will be the fifth clash between Malta and Armenia. Ironically Armenia won the previous four matches 1-0 – a friendly match in Yerevan in July 1994, a friendly match at Ta’ Qali in September 2007, a match from the Malta International Tournament in February 2008 and last September’s World Cup qualifier.

On that occasion, substitute Artur Sarkisov scored the all-important goal on the 70th minute.

The game will be controlled by referees from Northern Ireland, namely Arnold Hunter who will be assisted by Eammon Shanks and Richard Storey and fourth official Mark Courntey.

Armenia vs Malta will be screened live on TVM 2.