The Malta Under-21 side, led by Silvio Vella, plays its last game from Group 1 of the UEFA Under-21 Championship qualifying round as it takes on Moldova at the Hibernians Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 18:00.
Thanks to the 1-0 win over Latvia on Friday, Malta established a record number of eight points and another positive result on Tuesday would ensure that Malta ends its commitments in fourth place in the group.
Addressing the media on Monday, coach Silvio Vella said that this group of players did very positive things in this campaign after collecting five points away from home and so far, eight points in all. He said he was really happy with the players in squad.
Vella stressed that unlike other countries whose players were almost all born 1994, Malta had several younger players who were part of the squad. These means that although a number of players from the current squad would no longer be eligible to play for the Under-21 national team, others will still be able to play in the next campaign.
He said that throughout these qualifiers he had to make changes, mainly due to injuries, and introduce younger players. Players had to be playing regularly for their clubs in order to be prepared for the Under-21 national team. He said that when looking for a replacement, he said he usually went for players from the Under-19 side, stressing that these were mainly former members of the Under-17 side which took part in the UEFA Under-17 Championship finals in 2014, meaning that the investment made by the association in that squad paid off.
As regards this campaign, Silvio Vella said: “We were in Pot 6, it was a difficult draw but after getting four points from the first two matches, we started to aim higher. We prepared well, the players need to be fully focussed and avoid mistakes.”
The Malta Under-21 coach added that for the last game, there was particular pressure on the players who were aiming to get a draw at least. He expects Moldova to be a more aggressive and a stronger side and therefore this should be a tougher game. Llywelyn Cremona is suspended but Johann Bezzina should be back after missing the last game due to an injury.
Dover Athletic defender Samuel Magri said that as it was the case against Latvia, if players believe in themselves as we did against Latvia, they could achieve another good result against Moldova.
When asked whether he aims to play for the senior team, Magri said “It would be a good opportunity for me and my family to make it to senior side.”
Meanwhile team manager Jesmond Abela said that although they were criticised for having the first four games away from home, this was what they wanted and they were proved right. He said that against Belgium, the team reacted well and Belgium snatched the winner in stoppage time. He added that against Moldova away from home, Malta deserved a win.
Abela concluded by saying that although the MFA is criticised, the investment on the Under-17 side a few years ago paid off.
“When we had a good budget, this paid offwell. There are players like Jean Borg, Matthew Guillamier, Joseph Mbong and Jake Grech who are playing regularly for their clubs despite teams having seven foreigners on the field of play.”