In view of the forthcoming EURO 2016 qualifiers which kick-off in September, the Malta national team takes on Albania in a friendly match at the Niko Dovana Stadium in Durres on Wednesday, kick-off at 18:00.
After ending the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers with two heavy defeats to the Czech Republic and Denmark, Malta played a friendly match in November, defeating the Faroe Islands 3-2. Wednesday’s test against Albania will therefore be a good test for Pietro Ghedin’s side ahead of the EURO 2016 qualifiers. Malta will face Croatia away from home in September, host Norway and Italy in October and play another match away from home in November against Bulgaria.
Photos: Copyright © Joe Borg
For Malta, this game brought some controversies following Valletta FC’s decision not to release their players for training on Thursday and Friday despite an agreement between the clubs and the association towards the end of last year. This led to a situation where all Valletta players were dropped from the squad. These included Jonathan Caruana, Roderick Briffa and Ryan Fenech who could have even made it to the starting line-up together with Steve Borg, Shaun Bajada and Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza who were also named in the provisional squad.
To replace them, Ghedin included Malta Under-21 captain Zach Muscat of Birkirkara and another Under-21 international Bjorn Kristensen of Hibernians together with Qormi midfielder Leighton Grech.
This game marks the return to the squad of Wellington Phoenix defender Manny Muscat after an absence of two years. He should make it to the starting line-up.
Otherwise Ghedin is not expected to make much changes to the team which defeated the Faroe Islands. Andrew Hogg is expected to start in goal once again with Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri as central defenders, Manny Muscat and Clayton Failla on the flanks, Paul Fenech and Gareth Sciberras as holding midfielder with Alex Muscat, Andre Schembri in midfielde behind sole striker Michael Mifsud.
Despite finishing second from bottom in Group E of the World Cup qualifiers, Albania, led by Italian coach Gianni De Biasi, collected eleven points from ten matches with three wins and two draws.
Malta and Albania met seven times – with only the latter two being from the World Cup qualifiers. In the three games played in Tirana, Malta lost with an identical 3-0 score in November 2000, August 2007 and September 2008. In the last clash between the two countries, the two teams shared the spoils in a goalless draw at Ta’ Qali in February 2009.