Malta plays its four game from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2016 as the team led by Pietro Ghedin faces Bulgaria at the Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski in Sofia on Sunday, kick-off at 20:45 (live on TVM2).
After the narrow defeat to Italy last month, Malta will be aiming at a good performance in Sofia following a humiliating 6-0 defeat to Bulgaria at the same venue eighteen months ago.
Ghedin will be unable to field his best formation as Michael Mifsud is ruled out through suspension after being sent off against Italy while Steve Borg serves the third of his three-match ban after his dismissal in the Croatia game. Players like Alex Muscat and Gareth Sciberras are ruled out due to long-term injuries while Ryan Scicluna and Clifford Gatt Baldacchino were dropped from the squad as they are still recovering from injuries.
Apart from Mifsud, Scicluna and Pisani, another two players who were part of the Malta squad for the game against Italy do not feature in the squad which travelled to Bulgaria – John Mintoff and Steve Pisani. On the other hand, Tarxien defender Owen Bugeja, Sliema midfielder Mark Scerri and Floriana duo Clyde Borg and Brooke Farrugia were drafted in while Valletta defender Jonathan Caruana is back in squad after recovering from an injury.
Mintoff and Mifsud were in the Malta starting line-up against Italy and therefore Ghedin will make at least two changes.
Andrew Hogg will definitely start in goal while in defence, the Malta coach is expected to include Jonathan Caruana but Zach Muscat should retain his place after doing well against Norway and Italy. Jonathan Caruana, Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat could play in defence with Ryan Camilleri shifted to the right flank with Clayton Failla being employed on the left.
Roderick Briffa, Rowen Muscat and Paul Fenech should play in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Jean Paul Farrugia in attack. For the Spartak Trnava striker, this will only be his second appearance in the national team.
Another option is to leave one player between Ryan Camilleri and Jonathan Caruana out of the starting line-up with Roderick Briffa playng on the right flank and Ryan Fenech joining Rowen Muscat and Paul Fenech in midfield.
This will be the twelfth game between Malta and Bulgaria with the latter winning nine of the previous games, the other two ending in draws. At home, Bulgaria managed to register comfortable wins over Malta, winning 5-0 in the European Championship qualifiers in June 1975, 7-0 in a friendly match in October 1982, 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier in October 2000, 4-1 in another World Cup qualifier in October 2004 and 6-0 in the last World Cup qualifiers in March 2013.
Meanwhile Bulgaria will be without midfielders Todor Nedelev and Vladimir Gadzhev as they are ruled out injured. Coach Luboslav Penev called up CSKA Sofia midfielder Marquinhos to cover their absence. Botev Plovdiv midfielder Milen Gamakov, 20, could earn his first cap while experienced defender Alexander Tunchev is back in the squad after a five-year absence.
Bulgaria are currently fourth in the group following defeats to Croatia and Norway
Bulgaria vs Malta will be controlled by Swedish officials – referee Martin Strömbergsson, assistant referees Daniel Gustavsson and Joakim Flink, additional assistant referees Andreas Ekberg and Bojan Pandžić and fourth official Per Brogevik.