Captain Michael Mifsud is set to make his hundredth appearance for the national team as Malta hosts the Czech Republic in the last home match from the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at the National Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 19:30.
Mifsud, who made his debut for Malta in a friendly match against Albania on February 10, 2000, is the all-time top-scorer for Malta with 37 goals, including the goal with which Malta beat Armenia 1-0 last June – the first away win in a competitive match in twenty years.
Although Malta collected just three points from Group B, performances were quite encouraging in all matches apart from the heavy defeat to Bulgaria in March. In fact with a bit more of luck, Malta could have achieved something more from the last two matches at home against Denmark and Bulgaria. On both occasions, Malta lost 1-2.
Photo: Copyright © Joe Borg
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, national coach Pietro Ghedin said that all games are difficult but what was most important was that the players go on the field of play knowing that they can play their game without any fear of the opponents.
Ghedin ruled out the possibility of using different tactics, saying this was not the time for experiments. He said that almost all teams who play Malta attack with two players on both the right and left flanks and his plans are based on countering that move. He went on to say that the most important thing was to avoid silly mistakes. The Malta coach said the difference between a great team and a small team are the details. Once the team is able to stay fully concentrated throughout the whole ninety minutes, avoiding such mistakes, the team could finally be considered as a great team. He said that this is only achieved as each individual player continues to work hard to improve.
Roderick Briffa – scorer of the only goal in the Plzen in October, said that the team is paying dearly for mistakes committed but stressed that the team has improved and has been achieving good results. He said that this was thanks to the mentality instilled in the players by Ghedin.
Michael Mifsud said that playing the hundredth game for the national team was a great landmark. He said that since his debut, things changed a lot. He said that in his first years, he was lucky to play with players like Carmel Busuttil, John Buttigieg, David Carabott, Joe Brincat, among others – great players from whom he learned a lot. Since then the national team was playing better football and was achieving results.
Before the game, the new Melbourne Heart striker will be presented with a commemorative medal by UEFA. Mifsud will be the fifth player with hundred caps or more after Carmel Busuttil, David Carabott, Joe Brincat and Gilbert Agius.
Omonia Nicosia striker Andre Schembri is ruled out through suspension after collecting a second yellow card. Asked about his absence, Ghedin said that in each case, there are players waiting for their turn and he is confident that whoever will replace him will give his very best. The Malta coach said that rather than basing on individual players, he relies on the collective effort, saying he has found a good group of players to work with.
Birkirkara duo Edward Herrera and Gareth Sciberras are also recovering from slight injuries but both should be able to make it. Ghedin said that should they miss the game, there are players who could replace them well.
No major changes are expected from the team which lost to Bulgaria apart from the return of Roderick Briffa who missed the last game through suspension and the absence of Andre Schembri.
With goalkeeper Justin Haber guarding the posts once again, Ryan Camilleri, Andrei Agius, Luke Dimech and Alex Muscat are expected to retain their place in the back-four, Roderick Briffa should join Gareth Sciberras as holding midfielders with Edward Herrera, Andrew Cohen and Clayton Failla playing in midfield behind Michael Mifsud. Should Sciberras and Herrera fail to recover fully, they would be replaced by Rowen Muscat could retain his place in midfield after doing well in the last two matches and John Mintoff with Ryan Fenech being another option instead of Cohen.
In three games between the two countries played at Ta’ Qali, Malta managed to hold the Czech Republic in two draws, the other ending in a narrow 0-1 defeat.
Ghedin said this was a period of reflection for the Czech Republic following the dismissal of coach Michal Bílek and the appointment of Josef Pešice with the team lying in fourth place, four points behind second-placed Bulgaria and three behind Denmark. He said that the team has definitely a good replacement for Tomas Rosicky who is ruled out injured. Theodor Gebre Selassie and Libor Kozak are suspended.
The match will be controlled by Matej Jug of Slovenia who will be assisted by Primoz Ahar and Marko Stancin and fourth official Mitja Zganec.
Tickets will be available at the gates at the following prices:
West A & C Stand – Adults €25
Millennium Stand – Adults €15; Children €5
South Stand – Adults €10; Children €3
Sector West A Stand will be reserved for visiting fans while the North Stand will not be opened for this match. As in previous matches, sectors West A, B and C will be on allocated seating while Millennium Stand Sectors D and F, as well as the South Stand will be on a free seating basis.