Difficult test for Malta in Oslo

The Malta national team is in for probably the most difficult game in this European Qualifiers campaign as it takes Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo on Saturday, kick-off at 18:00.

The team’s performance in Group H so far was quite positive. Malta collected two points in draws with Bulgaria (1-1 in Sofia) and Azerbaijan (2-2 at Ta’ Qali) and lost five of the other six matches by just one or two goals – 0-2 to Croatia in Zagreb, 0-1 to Italy at Ta’ Qali and in Firenze, 0-2 to Azerbaijan in Baku and 0-1 to Bulgaria at Ta’ Qali. The only really disappointing result and performance was the 0-3 defeat to Norway at Ta’ Qali in October 2014.

Scandinavian opponents are traditionally a very hard nut to crack for Malta. In matches against Norway away from home, Malta had lost 5-0 in July 1962, 2-0 in June 1995 and the infamous 4-0 defeat in June 2007. Same thing applies for Sweden and Denmark as Malta suffered no less than 22 goals in five matches against Sweden away from home and seventeen in four matches against Denmark in matches on Danish soil.
However the national team is now hoping to defy the odds and give Norway a hard time although the team led by Per-Mathias Høgmo will be all out to get a fine morale-boosting win ahead of their final clash with Italy on Tuesday which could determine whether they could achieve direct qualification for the EURO 2016 or have to wait for the play-offs for the third-placed teams.

Malta coach Pietro Ghedin is not expected to make much changes to the team. Paul Fenech will be back after missing the Azerbaijan clash when he was serving a one-match ban. However Jonathan Caruana and Ryan Fenech are both ruled out injured.

Andrew Hogg will start once again in goal with the back-three being Steve Borg, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri who had replaced Zach Muscat in the last game. Alex Muscat and Clayton Failla should be employed on the flanks.

Paul Fenech joins Roderick Briffa and Rowen Muscat in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting either Alfred Effiong or Michael Mifsud in attack.

The other players at the disposal of Ghedin are: goalkeepers Henry Bonello and Justin Haber; defenders Justin Grioli, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino and Joseph Zerafa; midfielders Gareth Sciberras, Bjorn Kristensen, Steve Pisani and Clyde Borg and striker Andrew Cohen.

Norway’s campaign in the European Qualifiers kicked-off with a 0-2 home defeat to Italy but they bounced back with back-to-back wins over Malta (3-0 at Ta’ Qali) and Bulgaria (2-1 in Oslo). They defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in Baku but then suffered a heavy 1-5 defeat to Croatia in Zagreb. They dropped two important points in a goalless draw with Azerbaijan in Baku but a 1-0 win over Bulgaria in Sofia and a 2-0 win over Croatia in Oslo put them back on track.

They are currently second in Group H, two points behind leaders Italy and two ahead of Croatia. On Tuesday, they play Italy in Rome while Croatia face Malta at Ta’ Qali.