Malta takes on Azerbaijan in the fifth match from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2016 at the Tofig Bahramov Republican Stadium in Baku, kick-off 18:00 CET.
After suffering defeats to Croatia (2-0 in Zagreb), Norway (0-3 at Ta’ Qali) and Italy (0-1 at Ta’ Qali), Malta bounced back with a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria in Sofia last November and the boys in red will be all out to repeat this performance against Azerbaijan who are still chasing their first point in the group after losing 1-2 to Bulgaria, 2-1 to Italy, 6-0 to Croatia and 0-1 to Norway.
Since November, Malta played only one match – last Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to Georgia in Tbilisi. A match which could have gone either way as although the hosts held the initiative, the Maltese defended well and could have easily taken the lead had Alfred Effiong not been unlucky to hit the foot of the upright in a swift counter-attack for Malta on the 78th minute. A few minutes later, Georgia managed to break the deadlock thanks to a controversial goal, adding a second one in added time.
Alfred Effiong’s fine performance could earn him a place in the starting line-up on Saturday ahead of Jean Paul Farrugia who replaced Michael Mifsud in the game against Bulgaria in November and was also named in the starting line-up in Tbilisi. On the other hand, Steve Bezzina is expected to replace Clayton Failla who withdrew from the squad as his wife gave birth this week.
Goalkeeper Andrew Hogg and midfielders Roderick Briffa and Paul Fenech, who were rested for the game against Georgia are all expected to be back, therefore replacing Justin Haber, Bjorn Kristensen and Andre Cohen.
Malta is therefore expected to start with Hogg in goal, Jonathan Caruana, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri as the central defenders, Steve Borg and Steve Bezzina on the flanks, Roderick Briffa, Rowen Muscat and Paul Fenech in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack. The other option is the inclusion of Farrugia in the starting line-up with Effiong being included as a substitute.
The other players at the disposal of Ghedin are:
goalkeepers Justin Haber and Henry Bonello;
defenders Ryan Camenzuli, Jurgen Pisani, Zach Muscat;
midfielders Conor Borg, Ryan Fenech, Bjorn Kristensen, Steve Pisani, Mark Scerri;
forwards Andrew Cohen, Jean Paul Farrugia.
But Malta’s task will be no easy one considering that Azerbaijan will be playing their first match since the appointment of former Croatian international Robert Prosinecki as their new coach.
Robert Prosinečki has selected seven Qarabağ FK in his 24-man Azerbaijan squad for the European qualifier against Malta on 28 March. Eddy Israfilov is the only newcomer.
The selected players are:
goalkeepers Kamran Agayev (Qäbälä FK), Salahat Agayev (İnter Bakı PİK), Andriy Popovich (Sumqayıt FK);
defenders Rashad F. Sadygov (Qarabağ FK), Badavi Guseynov (Qarabağ FK), Maxim Medvedev (Qarabağ FK), Ruslan Abışov (Qäbälä FK), Arif Dashdemirov (İnter Bakı PİK), Magomed Mirzabekov (İnter Bakı PİK), Mahir Shukurov (Karşıyaka SK);
midfielders: Cavid Hüseynov (Qäbälä FK), Rahid Amirguliyev (Xäzär Länkäran FK), Qara Qarayev (Qarabağ FK), Namik Alaskarov (Qarabağ FK), Cavid Tagiyev (Qarabağ FK), Afran Ismayilov (İnter Bakı PİK), Joshgun Diniyev (İnter Bakı PİK), Elvin Mamedov (İnter Bakı PİK), Eddy Israfilov (Granada CF), Dmitri Nazarov (Karlsruher SC);
forwards Vugar Nadirov (Qarabağ FK), Magomed Kurbanov (Sumqayıt FK), Ruslan Gurbanov (HNK Hajduk Split), Vagif Javadov (Gaziantep BB).
This game will be the first time the two countries meet in a competition as the previous encounters were all friendlies. Malta had defeated Azerbaijan 5-0 in 1994, 3-0 in 2000 and 1-0 in 2002 but two years ago in Baku, Azerbaijan defeated Malta 3-0.
The match will be controlled by Turkish officials, namely referee Halis Ozkahya, assistant referees Cem Satman and Ekrem Kan, additional assistant referees Mete Kalkavan and Tolga Ozkalfa andfourth official Kemal Yilmaz.