Michael Mifsud is set to establish a new record of 123rd appearances for the national team as Malta takes on Iceland in a friendly match at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 19:00. A match which should serve as preparation for the national team ahead of the next commitments from the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Slovakia in March at Ta’ Qali and against Slovenia in June away from home.
From last Friday’s narrow defeat to Slovenia, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin has to make at least one change as Zach Muscat left the squad to join Arezzo for an important league game. He was replaced by Tarxien Rainbows defender Daniel Zerafa.
Being a friendly match, more changes would be no surprise although Ghedin is expected to start with Andrew Hogg in goal, Sam Magri, Andrei Agius and Steve Borg in defence, Ryan Camilleri and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Gareth Sciberras or Bjorn Kristensen, Rowen Muscat and Luke Gambin in midfield, Andre Schembri and Michael Mifsud in attack. However players like Under-21 internationals Ryan Camenzuli and Daniel Zerafa could get their chances during the game along with Alfred Effiong.
Addressing the media on Monday, Ghedin said this was another difficult game against a strong side which improved considerably over the past ten years. He said Iceland are strong not only technically but physically as well. Referring to the game against Slovenia, he said that the players did their job well during the first half but lost their concentration after the break.
When asked with regards to a more attacking mentality, Ghedin said that in football, one needed balance. He said that five years ago, no one used to mention attack. He stressed that he does not opt for the 3-5-2/5-3-2 system to avoid heavy defeats. He said that it was a tactical system that the players got used to.
“With this system everyone knows his role. I can change as the system is flexible and every player is ready to defend or attack.”
“Every time we try to do better but our opponents sometimes do better. We are Malta and we play our game. My job is to try to break the other team’s balance,” said Ghedin. “Our strength is the group. We try to give our best and do our job. We try to improve from game to game and I choose the players who are in the best condition.”
“One has to be realistic. I believe in the boys as they keep on fighting.”
When referring to comments demanding his resignation, Ghedin was clear: “Resignation is a sign of weakness.”
Michael Mifsud, who made his international debut in a match from the Rothmans Tournament on February 10, 2000 against Albania, matched David Carabott’s record of 122 national team appearances on Friday and another appearance on Tuesday would enable him to establish a new record.
Mifsud said he was happy to reach this milestone and thanked all coaches and players, saying that without their help he would have not achieved this. He said that the team has been preparing well for this game, as with all other games, and hopefully Malta will achieve a good result.
The Valletta striker made his debut for Malta in February 2000 in a friendly match against Albania. “At the time, I was only 17 and I was happy only to be part of the group,” said Mifsud. He added that hard work as the key behind this important milestone.
“Every coach gives his own imput. It is not an easy job, one has to work hard day in day out, trying to improve,” added Mifsud.
Malta and Iceland met fourteen times with Malta winning three games and losing ten, the other game ending in a goalless draw. Eight of these matches were played on home soil – three friendly matches, three matches from the Malta International Tournament and two World Cup qualifiers. These included three 4-1 wins for Iceland in May 1991, February 1996 and April 2001, a 2-1 win for Iceland in April 1999, two 1-0 wins for Malta in February 1992 and February 2008, a goalless draw in a World Cup qualifier in October 2004 and a 1-0 win for Iceland in the last meeting between the two countries in November 2008.
In recent years, Iceland made impressive improvement and is now ranked 21st in the FIFA World Ranking, compared to Malta’s 178th place.
Following an impressive run in the EURO 2016 in France where they held Portugal and Hungary in 1-1 draws, defeated Austria and England 2-1, they bowed out following a 5-2 defeat to France. In the qualifying stage, they had collected no less than twenty points in a group which included the Czech Republic, Turkey, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Latvia to finish second in the group.
They are now third in Group I of the World Cup qualifiers following a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in Kyiv, a 3-2 win over Finland and a 2-0 win over Turkey in Rekyjavik and a 0-2 defeat to Croatia in Zagreb.