After suffering narrow defeats to Bulgaria and Italy, Malta will be aiming for a positive result as Pietro Ghedin’s side hosts Azerbaijan at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 18:00.
Malta lost six of the seven matches played so far, collecting the only point in a draw with Bulgaria in November. However the good performances in five of the matches, apart from the clash at home to Norway, fill the team with courage that they could achieve something from Sunday’s game.
The Malta coach is only expected to make one change from the team who lost 1-0 to Italy thanks to a dubious goal by Graziano Pellè. Paul Fenech is suspended after picking a third yellow card and Ghedin mainly has two options to replace him – the inclusion of Bjorn Kristensen in midfield or utilising Andre Schembri in midfield and putting Michael Mifsud in attack along with Alfred Effiong.
Jonathan Caruana and Ryan Fenech who missed both the Bulgaria and Italy games are still ruled out due to injuries.
Andrew Hogg is therefore set to start in goal with Steve Borg, Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat in defence; Alex Muscat and Clayton Failla on the flanks; Roderick Briffa, Rowen Muscat and Bjorn Kristensen in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack.
However Sunday’s task will be no easy one for the boys in red.
After a poor start to their European Qualifiers campaign in which they lost 1-2 at home to Bulgaria and Norway and suffered defeats to Italy and Croatia away from home, Azerbaijan appointed Robert Prosinečki as their new coach and since then defeated Malta 2-0 and held Norway (away) and Croatia (at home) in goalless draws.
Malta and Azerbaijan met five times with Malta winning the three games played at Ta’ Qali – 5-0 in a friendly match in April 1994, 3-0 in a match from the Rothmans Tournament in February 2000 and 1-0 in another friendly match in April 2002. Since then, the two teams met twice in Baku – a friendly match won by Azerbaijan 3-0 in August 2013 and last March’s EURO qualifier which Azerbaijan won with goals by Javid Hüseynov on the 4th minute and Dmitri Nazarov two minutes in added time.
Tickets will be available at the gates for €15 for the West Stand A and €8 for the Millennium Stand. Tickets for the Millennium Stand for children cost €5.