Malta kicks-off its commitments in the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup as it hosts Scotland in the first match from Group F at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 20:45.
Pietro Ghedin’s side collected two points in the last European Qualifiers thanks to two draws against Bulgaria and Azerbaijan and obviously the main objective would be that of doing better than that in this campaign. However this will be no easy task, considering that the other teams in the group are England, Slovakia, Slovenia and Lithuania.
The Malta coach stressed that Malta starts as the underdog but is confident his players will be all out to give their very best after a 1-1 draw in a friendly match against Estonia on Wednesday.
“We obtained a good result in Estonia. We had a long trip but the players have now recovered and are ready for tomorrow.”
“Scotland is a strong team for me and I like their style of play. They are a difficult team to play but we are confident. When we are in good condition, anything can happen – you can win, you can lose. It is important for our players to go out on the pitch and give their very best. We are ready to fight,” stressed Ghedin.
The Italian mentor said he studied his opponents well. He said that although they missed out on the EURO 2016, they still achieved good results and scored a lot of goals. They have several players playing in England. They have very strong players and play their hearts out.
Ghedin is not expected to make any changed to the team which drew with Estonia. He said that players only had three training sessions with him and therefore there is no room for experimentation. The players recovered well but there are one or two players who were still recovering. One of these is Alfred Effiong who sustained an injury in Estonia and seemed not to be in full fitness during Saturday’s training session.
The Malta coach said that he would be adopting the same approach as that against Estonia, also considering that the latter improved a lot in recent years, obtaining ten points in the last qualifying campaign and reached the play-offs in the EURO 2012 qualifiers.
“We are usually the underdogs but in the last four years, we achieved good results. I am sure we will give our best for this game,” said Ghedin.
When asked what would he choose between points and performance, Ghedin said “If you achieve points, it is better than performance. But if players give their very best, supporters would still be happy.”
Barnet midfielder Luke Gambin would not comment on his fine performances, especially in the games against Austria and Estonia.
“The national team is not about individuals. The first game was a bit difficult. My team mates accepted me. I was very impressed with the experienced players in the squad and the young ones who are coming up.”
“The manager instructed us well and we are all looking forward for the game. This will be a great experience and achievement for me to play against Scotland. It is good for me and my career to play against such players,” added Gambin.
Andrew Hogg is set to start in goal with Steve Borg, Jonathan Caruana and Andrei Agius as the three central defenders, Joseph Zerafa and Clayton Failla on the flanks, Gareth Sciberras, Paul Fenech and Luke Gambin in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack.
Should Effiong fail to make it, Michael Mifsud would lead the attack.
The other players a the disposal of Ghedin are Henry Bonello, Zach Muscat, Ryan Camilleri, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, Roderick Briffa, Bjorn Kristensen, Ryan Scicluna and Jean Paul Farrugia.
This will be sixth clash between Malta and Scotland with the Scottish winning four of the matches. Malta hosted Scotland four times at Ta’ Qali. Following a 1-1 draw in a friendly match in March 1988, Scotland registered a narrow 2-1 win in May 1990 in another friendly match. In a World Cup qualifier in November 1993, Scotland registered a 2-0 win while in a friendly match in 1997, Scotland defeated Malta 3-2.
After bowing out of the EURO qualifiers, Scotland played four matches. They registered narrow wins over the Czech Republic away from home and Denmark at home in March, lost narrowly to Italy at Ta’ Qali in May and 0-3 to France in June.
Scotland coach Gordon Strachan was forced to make a number of changes to the squad earlier this week as four players were ruled out due to injuries. Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths, who has scored seven goals in the Scottish Premiership and Champions League qualifying already this season, has now been ruled out of the squad, along with club team-mate Kieran Tierney, Crystal Palace’s James McArthur and Fulham midfielder Kevin McDonald.
Scotland have called up Tony Watt, on loan at Hearts from Charlton Athletic, and Rangers defender Lee Wallace as replacements.
The Scotland squad is therefore made up of:
Goalkeepers: Craig Gordon (Celtic), Jack Hamilton (Hearts), David Marshall (Cardiff City).
Defenders: Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town), Gordon Greer (Blackburn Rovers), Grant Hanley (Newcastle United), Alan Hutton (Aston Villa), Russell Martin (Norwich City), Callum Paterson (Hearts), Andrew Robertson (Hull City), Lee Wallace (Rangers).
Midfielders: Ikechi Anya (Derby County), Barry Bannan (Sheffield Wednesday), Oliver Burke (RB Leipzig), Darren Fletcher (West Bromwich Albion), James Forrest (Celtic), John McGinn (Hibernian), Barrie McKay (Rangers), James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion), Matt Ritchie (Newcastle United), Robert Snodgrass (Hull City).
Forwards: Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday), Chris Martin (Derby County), Steven Naismith (Norwich City), Tony Watt (Hearts).
The Stadium Gates and Ticket Booths will open at 18:30.
Ticket Prices for this match are as follows: West Stand €25; Millennium D & Millennium F €15 and South Stand €10. Children under the age of 12 years will be allowed access to the South Stand Free of Charge when accompanied by an adult who is in possession of a valid ticket or a Goal Card for the South Stand. Each child will however still be required to be in possession of a ticket which can be obtained from any of the Points of Sales, including the stadium ticket booths.
Stadium ticket booths on match day will operate as follows:
Ticket Booths at West A – Ticket Information Office;
Ticket Booths at West C will sell tickets for West C and the South Stands;
Ticket Booths at Millennium D will sell tickets for Millennium D and the South Stands;
Ticket Booths at Millennium F will sell tickets for Millennium F.
Malta Public Transport Limited for this match will be operating an additional Bus Service to and from the National Stadium both before and after the match. A Direct route will operate from Valletta to Ta’ Qali National Stadium from 17:15 to 19:45 with a frequency of 30 minutes.
At the end of the match, at around 22:30, four buses will be parked to operate two special routes: from Ta’ Qali to Bugibba Terminus via Mosta and St. Paul’s Bay and from Ta’ Qali to St. Julian’s – Sliema – Valletta. These two special routes will operate between 22:45 and 23:00hrs.
The ticket fares will be as follows: €3.00 on board ticket, €2.50 Tallinja card. Explore card will be included.