Malta takes on Moldova at the National Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 15:00, in another of a series of friendly matches leading to the FIFA World Cup qualifiers which kick-off in September.
Following the end of the European Qualifiers where Malta collected two points in two draws with Bulgaria and Azerbaijan, Malta played a friendly match last November against Jordan, losing 0-2. After this game, by the end of the season, the national team will be playing another two friendly matches against the Czech Republic and Austria in Austria.
Addressing the media on Monday, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin, who has renewed his contract for another two years in January, said that the quality of the players in the squad has improved and that now he has 18 to 20 players who are of a good quality. He said he was happy that more players are moving abroad, saying that by playing in a professional league, their approach to the game would be much better.
Ghedin said that players have to work hard to stay within the national squad and said that in a few months’ time, there would be more players from the Under-21 squad who would be ready to play for the senior team.
For the first time in months, Ghedin will have the full squad at his disposal, apart from Ryan Fenech who is still struggling to regain full fitness. When asked about the absence of Jean Paul Farrugia and Lydon Micallef, the Malta coach stressed that he has to choose the best twenty players. He said that he had been following a number of players, including Micallef for some time but in his opinion, he needs to improve. As regards Farrugia, he said that right now, he was not playing well constantly and has to work harder. Ghedin said that with the previous national team set-up, he used to call several players so that they could train together at Ta’ Qali but this was no longer possible.
Also speaking at the press conference was Malta international defender Zach Muscat who moved to S.S. Akragas Città dei Templi in the Italian Lega Pro in January. He said that this was the first step he had been working to – focussing on football from morning to night. Muscat said he hoped that thanks to this experience in Italy, he would be able to give something back to his colleagues in the national team.
Zach Muscat will be one of a number of players who will be making their return on Thursday. Muscat, along with Justin Haber, Jonathan Caruana, Rowen Muscat, Ryan Camilleri and Justin Grioli, will be back after missing the last game against Jordan.
From the team which travelled to Jordan, Manuel Briffa, Ryan Camenzuli, Llywelyn Cremona and Luke Montebello were left out as they are part of the Under-21 squad, Owen Bugeja and Clyde Borg were not recalled while Terence Vella did not make it to the final squad.
Although Andrew Hogg has not played any matches for Kalloni for over two months due to a dispute with the club, he could still start in goal. In defence, Ghedin is spoilt for choice but should opt for Jonathan Caruana, Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat as the three central defenders with Steve Borg and Clayton Failla playing on the flanks. Rowen Muscat should join Roderick Briffa and Paul Fenech in midfield while in attack, Andre Schembri will support Alfred Effiong.
The other players at the disposal of Ghedin are: Justin Haber, Henry Bonello, Ryan Camilleri, Justin Grioli, Joseph Zerafa, Ryan Scicluna, Bjorn Kristensen, Gareth Sciberras and Michael Mifsud.
The game against Moldova is a clash with an opponent which is more or less on the same level as Malta. Moldova is currently ranked 156th and Malta 161st. In the European Qualifiers, they obtained two points like Malta, earning their only points in two draws away from home to Russia and Liechtenstein. Like Malta, they also conceded sixteen goals.
Ghedin said that Moldova play with a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 system and said that in their last game against Azerbaijan which they lost 1-2, they could have easily conceded more goals. He said he was surprised to see a major overhaul in the squad with no less than fourteen changes. The large majority of the players selected by Igor Dobrovolski are based in Moldova although there is Artur Ioniță who plays for Verona and another few played based in Russia, Turkey and Romania.
Malta and Moldova met seven times with five of these matches being played at Ta’ Qali. Malta won on just one occasion with two games ending in draws. In the only two competitive matches, in 2007, Malta held Moldova in a 1-1 draw in Chisinau but lost 2-3 at Ta’ Qali.