After earning a point in a 1-1 draw in Sofia last November, Malta will be seeking a second positive result in Group H of the European Qualifiers as it hosts Bulgaria at the National Stadium, kick-off at 20:45.
Monday’s 2-0 win in a friendly match against Lithuania was definitely a morale booster for Pietro Ghedin’s side as while the players are well aware that it will be no easy match as Bulgaria will be determined to take the three points home after being held by Malta in Sofia.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Ghedin said Bulgaria, currently ranked number 62, are definitely a much stronger side than Malta and will not be in the mood to relax. He said they will be coming to Malta to show determination and claim maximum points from the game.
Ghedin said the only way Malta could get a positive result is to play as a team like the players did against Lithuania, show great concentration throughout the 90-95 minutes and avoid conceding mistakes.
The Malta coach said that the team cannot afford being over-confident after the win over Lithuania and the players have to stay all the team with their feet on the ground and fight throughout the whole ninety minutes.
Malta captain Michael Mifsud said that the positive result of the Lithuania game was part of the past and the players now should focus on this game and give their hundred percent to try to achieve something.
Goalkeeper Justin Haber, on the other hand, said that with discipline and hard work, the Maltese players could offer a stiff challenge to any team as it was the case of the win in Armenia three years ago.
Ghedin is not expected to make much changes from the team which defeated Lithuania as Andrew Hogg, Steve Borg, Jonathan Caruana and Ryan Fenech are still ruled out injured.
Haber will start in goal with Zach Muscat, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri as the three central defenders, Alex Muscat and Clayton Failla will play on the flanks with Roderick Briffa, Rowen Muscat and Paul Fenech being employed in midfield. The only doubts concern the attack where Andre Schembri should return to the starting line-up, replacing Andrew Cohen, as the support striker behind Michael Mifsud. In such case, Alfred Effiong, scorer of a great goal against Lithuania, would start the game on the bench.
Bulgaria are currently fourth in the group with five points from four matches. After a winning start against Azerbaijan in Baku, Bulgaria lost 0-1 to Croatia in Sofia and 2-1 to Norway in Oslo, was held in a 1-1 draw by Malta but then held Italy in a 2-2 draw in Sofia.
Last Monday, Bulgaria suffered a 0-4 defeat to Turkey in a strange game which saw the Bulgarians almost dominate the first half but then conceding three goals in seven minutes between the 49th and 56th with Turkey sealing the issue with a fourth goal ten minutes from time.
Bulgarian coach Ivaylo Petev could not count on goalkeepers Vladislav Stoytanov (PFC Ludogorets Ragzrad) and Nikolay Mihaylov (Mersin İdman Yurdu) and CSKA Moskva’s Georgi Milanov for this game.
The full squad at his disposal is made up of:
goalkeepers Bozhidar Mitrev (PFC Lokomotiv Sofia), Blagoy Makendzhiev (PFC Beroe Stara Zagora);
defenders: Georgi Terziev (PFC Ludogorets Razgrad), Aleksandar Aleksandrov (PFC Ludogorets Razgrad), Borislav Stoychev (PFC Levski Sofia), Yordan Minev (PFC Ludogorets Ragzrad), Atanas Zehirov (PFC Beroe Stara Zagora), Ivan Bandalovski (FK Partizan), Nikolay Bodurov (Fulham FC), Petar Zanev (FC Amkar Perm), Kristiyan Malinov (PFC Litex Lovech);
midfielders Svetoslav Dyakov (PFC Ludogorets Ragzrad), Vladimir Gadzhev (PFC Levski Sofia), Mihail Alexandrov (PFC Ludogorets Ragzrad), Hristo Zlatinski (PFC Ludogorets Razgrad), Stanislav Manolev (FC Kuban Krasnodar), Ivaylo Chochev (US Città di Palermo);
forwards Ivelin Popov (FC Spartak Moskva), Ilian Micanski (Karlsruher SC), Andrej Galabinov (AS Livorno Calcio), Radoslav Vasilev (PFC Slavia Sofia), Alexander Tonev (Celtic FC).
This will be the seventh clash between the two countries to be played in Malta. Malta held Bulgaria in two draws – the other four matches ending in wins for Bulgaria. Malta lost 0-2 to Bulgaria in a European Championship qualifier in December 1975, then held Bulgaria in a goalless draw at Ta’ Qali in December 1982, lost 0-2 in a World Cup qualifier in August 2001 at Ta’ Qali, held them in a 1-1 draw in a World Cup qualifier in October 2005, lost 1-4 in a friendly match at the Hibs Stadium in November 2009 and then lost 1-2 in a World Cup qualifier in September 2013.
Tickets for Malta vs Bulgaria cost €20 for the West Stand A and the West Stand C, €12 for the Millennium Stand and €8 for the South Stand. West Stand A Upper will be reserved for Bulgarian fans and are available from the Bulgarian FA or the Malta FA.
Tickets for children cost €10 for the West Stand A and the West Stand C, €5 for the Millennium Stand and €2 for the South Stand.