Malta coach Pietro Ghedin has named a 23-strong squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F qualifier against Slovakia, to be played on March 26 at the National Stadium (kick-off 20:45). Ghedin’s first selection for 2017 contains some significant changes from his last squads for the home qualifier against Slovenia (0-1) and the friendly defeat to Iceland (0-2) in November.
Experienced midfielder Ryan Fenech has been rewarded for his influential performances for BOV Premier League leaders Balzan with a recall to the Malta squad. Fenech, 30, is back in the national team’s frame after an absence of two years due to injury.
There is also a return for a host of players who have not featured in recent squads with flank defender Jacob Borg also forcing his way back into Ghedin’s plans after playing a prominent role in in Gżira United’s revival of late.
Defender Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, also of Gżira United, has also earned a recall while the likes of Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana FC), Luke Montebello (Valletta FC) and Samir Arab (Balzan FC), all key members of the Malta U-21 side that collected 11 points in the last UEFA U-21 qualifiers, are also on the provisional list.
Floriana’s Jurgen Pisani has also been named in the provisional squad. Pisani and Arab are the only uncapped players on Ghedin’s 23-man list.
Rowen Muscat is on the initial list but Ghedin is expected to make a final decision on the Valletta midfielder’s availability after the weekend games as the 25-year-old is currently recovering from a minor injury.
Captain Michael Mifsud, who set a new record after making his 123rd Malta appearance in the 2-0 defeat to Iceland, has also been shortlisted after the Valletta FC striker made his comeback from a back injury earlier this month.
Ghedin has also awarded a recall to Sliema Wanderers midfielder Mark Scerri who is joined by club-mate Jean Paul Farrugia.
Four of the 23 players in the group are foreign-based, namely Andrè Schembri who plays for Portuguese club Boavista; Luke Gambin who is on the books of English League Two club Luton Town; Sam Magri of Dover Athletic and Zach Muscat of Italian Lega Pro side Arezzo.
Malta will be looking to gain their first point in Group F when they meet Slovakia after losing their opening four qualifiers.
Out of the players who made it to the final squad for last November’s matches against Slovenia and Iceland, Justin Haber, Steve Borg, Clayton Failla, Daniel Zerafa, Ryan Scicluna, Alfred Effiong and the suspended Andrei Agius are not part of the squad.
The players selected by Ghedin are:
Goalkeepers: Andrew Hogg (Hibernians); Henry Bonello (Birkirkara).
Defenders: Jacob Borg, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino (both Gżira United); Zach Muscat (Arezzo); Sam Magri (Dover Athletic); Jurgen Pisani, Ryan Camenzuli (both Floriana); Ryan Camilleri (Valletta); Samir Arab (Balzan); Joseph Zerafa (Birkirkara).
Midfielders: Gareth Sciberras (Birkirkara); Rowen Muscat (Valletta); Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians); Steve Pisani (Floriana); Luke Gambin (Luton Town); Paul Fenech, Ryan Fenech (both Balzan); Mark Scerri (Sliema Wanderers).
Forwards: Michael Mifsud (Valletta); Andrè Schembri (Boavista); Jean Paul Farrugia (Sliema Wanderers); Luke Montebello (Valletta).