Malta faces an important test ahead of Friday’s EURO qualifier against Bulgaria as Pietro Ghedin’s side hosts Lithuania in a friendly match at the National Stadium on Monday, kick-off at 20:00.
Ghedin is forced to make wholesale changes to the team which lost 2-0 to Azerbaijan in March as no less than four players who were included in the starting line-up in Baku are unavailable for these two matches. Andrew Hogg, Jonathan Caruana and Steve Borg are all ruled out injured while Steve Bezzina got married this weekend. Ryan Fenech, who was included as a substitute, is also ruled out injured.
Other changes from the squad which travelled to Tbilisi and Baku were the omission of Ryan Camenzuli and Conor Borg who play with the Under-21 in their first two qualifiers while Jurgen Pisani, Mark Scerri and Jean Paul Farrugia were not included. Ghedin, on the other hand, called after a long period of time Alex Muscat, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Edward Herrera, Joseph Zerafa and Michael Mifsud, apart from goalkeeper Glen Zammit. Terence Vella, who was also due to return with the squad, sustained an injury and was also left out. Clive Brincat and Firas Aboulezz are the two new faces in the squad.
Michael Mifsud returns after serving a three-match ban while Clayton Failla will be back after missing the last two matches as his wife had just delivered their first baby.
Addressing the media on Sunday, Ghedin said he was glad that Mifsud was back. He stressed that he always works hard with the national team, giving his hundred percent. An indication that despite a rather low-key performance with Sliema Wanderers this season, also due to a long-term injury, Mifsud is set to return to the starting line-up on Monday.
The Malta coach said that although Lithuania may not be a very consistent side, it was still a very good test ahead of the Bulgaria EURO qualifier, considering that they are ranked 96th, compared to Malta’s 145th. Lithuania lost 4-0 to England in their last EURO qualifier in March and suffered another 4-0 defeat to Hungary in a friendly match on Friday and are eager to bounce back ahead of their next qualifier against Switzerland on Sunday.
Ghedin said that what was most important for the team was avoiding mistakes which often lead to conceding goals or failing to score. He said that he will use this game to assess the physical condition of the players, now that domestic competitions are over.
The absence of a good winger is something which worries Pietro Ghedin, saying that he has to adopt a system to suit the players at his disposal.
With Hogg unavailable, Justin Haber is set to start in goal but Henry Bonello is expected to play one half. In defence, Zach Muscat should join Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri. Clayton Failla returns on the left flank while Alex Muscat should make it to the right flank although it would be no surprise whether Firas Aboulezz is handed his debut on that side.
Roderick Briffa, Paul Fenech and Rowen Muscat will be employed once again in midfield.
Andre Schembri is not fully fit and therefore Ghedin is not expected to risk playing him ahead of the Bulgaria game. Therefore Andrew Cohen is set to join Michael Mifsud in attack although the inclusion of Effiong together with Mifsud is another possibility.
The other players in the squad are Glen Zammit, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Clive Brincat, Edward Herrera, Joseph Zerafa, Bjorn Kristensen, Steve Pisani and Ryan Scicluna.
This will be the third friendly match between Malta and Lithuania. In February 2002, Malta and Lithuania shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw in the Rothmans Tournament while in November 2006, Malta suffered a 1-4 defeat to Lithuania.