Following a disappointing result and performance in a 0-3 defeat to Norway in a match from Group H of the EURO 2016 qualifiers, Malta will be aiming for a good display as the national team hosts Italy on Monday, kick-off at 20:45.
After two rather positive games against Slovakia and Croatia away from home, on Friday, Pietro Ghedin’s side found it difficult to control the fast Norwegian side with Joshua King wreaking havoc each time he gained possession, scoring two of the goals and providing the assist for the first goal by Mats Daehli.
Against Italy, the players are eager to bounce back with a good performance in front of a National Stadium practically sold out.
Captain Michael Mifsud said that in the last clash between Malta and Italy last year, Malta had played a good game, creating a number of good chances. He said the players enjoyed that game and are now looking forward to meeting Italy once again. Mifsud said that it was of utmost importance not to commit the same mistakes they did against Norway, saying that aganinst Italy, maximum concentration was necessary as this was the key to achieving a good performance and possibly a good result.
Andrei Agius said that the match against Italy was a special occasion for all the players and for him in particular, having spent eleven years playing Lega Pro football, this was a big event. Agius said that he was looking forward to playing Italy at Ta’ Qali as he missed the clash at home in March 2013.
Zach Muscat, on the other hand, said that all the players are looking forward for this game. He said the bigger the exposure and the more the pressure, the more enthusiasm the players show and the better their performance will be as this will encourage them more to be fully concentrated.
National coach Pietro Ghedin is eager to have his team bounce back from the disappointing result against Norway with a good performance on Monday. He said that although the players give their best, sometimes giving the hundred percent was not possible as you are not allowed to do so by your opponents.
The Malta coach is not expected to make changes from the team which lost to Norway, confirming Andrew Hogg in goal, Zach Muscat, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri in defence, Roderick Briffa and Clayton Failla on the flanks, Paul Fenech, Rowen Muscat and Ryan Fenech in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Michael Mifsud in attack.
Meanwhile following the narrow 2-1 win against Azerbaijan in Palermo, Italy coach Antonio Conte is expected to make some changes to the starting line-up. Fiorentina’s Manuel Pasqual and Lazio’s Antonio Candreva are expected to replace Milan’s Mattia De Sciglio and Torino’s Matteo Darmian. Marco Verratti of PSG should be preferred to Andrea Pirlo in midfield while in attack, Graziano Pellè of Southampton could make his international debut, replacing Simone Zaza of Sassuolo. Borussia Dortmund’s Ciro Immobile could also lose his place to Sebastian Giovinco of Juventus.
Italy would therefore start with Buffon in goal, Ranocchia, Bonucci and Chiellini in defence, Marchisio, Verratti and Florenzi in midfield with Pasqual and Candreva on the flanks with Pellè and Giovinco up front.
Conte did not confirm the changes but said that there could be some in this second game in three days. When asked regarding the possible inclusion of Pellè, he said that Zaza, Immobile and Giovinco did a good job and the Southampton striker was just one of the options. He said that all the players in the squad were there because they deserved to. As regards Pirlo, Conte said that the player had just recovered from an injury and that Verratti was in good condition, possibly indicating that the Paris St. Germain midfielder is set to start Monday’s game.
The Italy coach said the players have been working hard for the past month and although there is still much work to do, the team is on the right track after claiming maximum points from the first two group matches. On the other hand, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said the players deserve praise for working hard and for being able to react during the last game.
Conte expects a tough game against Malta. He said that in their last game, he expected a much more offensive approach from Azerbaijan. On the other hand, against Norway, Malta played more open football and were only beaten on counter-attacks.
The former Juventus coach said that his objective was to run the national team on the basis of a club – choosing the right players and then transmit his objectives to them. He said that there was still but the first results were quite encouraging.
This will be the seventh clash between Malta and Italy. In the three matches played at Ta’ Qali, Italy won 2-0 in December 1986, 2-1 in December 1992 and 2-0 in March 2013.
Malta vs Italy will be controlled by referee Ovidiu Hategan of Romania.