Malta takes on Croatia in final qualifier

Malta plays its final game from the European Qualifiers campaign as it hosts Croatia at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:45. A game which is of utmost importance for the visitors as they continue to chase direct qualification for the EURO 2016 in France next summer.

Despite collecting just two points from the nine matches played, overall the team had a rather encouraging performance throughout this campaign as apart from the draws with Bulgaria in Sofia and with Azerbaijan at Ta’ Qali, the team suffered two narrow defeats to Italy and one to Bulgaria and lost by a two-goal difference to Croatia and Azerbaijan away from home. It was in the games against Norway that Malta disappointed most – the 0-3 defeat at Ta’ Qali last year and last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat in Oslo.

Addressing the media on Monday, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin said that after the Norway game, together with the players, he analysed the performance and mistakes. He said Malta suffered a goal when Alex Muscat was out nursing an injury. Despite everything, he said that he was proud of the squad and happy with their performance throughout the campaign.

Ghedin admitted this would be a very difficult game against a team “which 99% will be going to France next year.” He said that even if they could not count on a few players who are ruled out due to injuries or suspensions, they still have a very strong squad. The Malta coach said Croatia were a very technical side with lot of experienced players, therefore promising to be a big hurdle for his team.

Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric are ruled out injured while Duje Cop is suspended after collecting a third yellow card.

After the Norway game, players were a bit tired due to the long trip according to Ghedin. He had a number of players had slight knocks but is confident the full squad will be fully fit. The Malta coach expects the players to be more confident and admitted that against teams like Norway, Malta always found some difficulty as one could not stay for so long under pressure.

Ghedin is not expected to make much changes. He stressed that the players who show they are in the best condition will play on Tuesday.

Defender Steve Borg, who now plays for Aris Limassol in Cyprus, said the team was well aware of the difficulty of the game again Norway. He admitted the team committed mistakes but is focussed on a better performance as a team against Croatia although the latter were in his opinion a stronger squad.

Andrew Hogg is expected to start in goal with Steve Borg, Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat as the three central defenders with Alex Muscat and Clayton Failla employed on the flanks.

Roderick Briffa, Paul Fenech and Rowen Muscat will be playing in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack.

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

Meanwhile no result other than a win would satisfy Croatia as they lie two points behind Norway in the battle for second place. Norway have to beat Italy in Rome to secure direct qualification.

After beating Malta 2-0, Bulgaria 1-0 away from home and Azerbaijan 6-0, Croatia held Italy in a 1-1 draw in Milan. They defeated Norway 5-1 and were held in a 1-1 draw by Italy in Split. Croatia then dropped two important points in a goalless draw in Baku and lost 2-0 to Norway in Oslo. The latter two results led to the dismissal of coach Niko Kovac and the appointment of Ante Čačić as their new mentor. Last Saturday, they defeated Bulgaria 3-2.

Tickets cost €15 for the West A Stand and €8 for Millennium Stand. Tickets for children at the Millennium Stand will cost €5. Sale of tickets to foreigners at the gates will only be allowed upon presentation of a valid identification document.

No tickets are being sold to Croatian fans following an agreement between the Croatian Football Federation and the MFA in accordance with UEFA.