Malta continues to chase its first point in Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup as it hosts Slovakia at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 20:45.
After playing four matches, Malta is still without any points after suffering four defeats, scored just one goal and conceded ten. Slovakia, on the other hand, registered two emphatic wins over Scotland and Lithuania after losing narrowly to both England and Slovenia.
Addressing the media on Saturday, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin said that although everyone is well aware that Malta was going to face a strong team, he believed in the potential of his players.
“I believe in my team. Today we had a good training session. We need to be a family to achieve good results. I have a good feeling as we worked hard together and everyone in the squad is in good condition,” said the Malta coach.
Since the last game against Slovenia, which Malta lost 0-1, there were several changes in the squad. However despite the several players who are unavailable, Ghedin stressed that there will still be no big changes from the last game.
Apart from the suspended Andrei Agius and Jonathan Caruana and the injured Rowen Muscat, Ghedin opted to leave out established players like Steve Borg, Clayton Failla and Alfred Effiong. Justin Haber, Ryan Camenzuli and Ryan Scicluna were also left out of the squad.
“Leaving out these players was only a technical decision. We have an open door policy. This time I decided this way, tomorrow will be another day.”
Ghedin said the idea behind the creation of the B squad was the fact that there were several players born 1992 to 1995 and he wanted to keep them together, “otherwise they get lost.” He said that there was now a pool of forty players but still everybody had to fight in order to retain his place.
Despite the absence of a number of players for Sunday’s game, he said the players in the squad were ready to give their hundred percent.
“Over the past six days, I tried to understand the condition of the players. They are prepared for this game. We are facing a physically strong team but I am sure tomorrow we will have a good game.”
When asked regarding the pressure to obtain a first positive result in the group, Ghedin said that there was always pressure.
“Everytime we try do do better. I want to improve, the players want to improve. Everybody wants to win but on the pitch, you need to understand the particular situations. Silly mistakes can ruin everything.”
“We have a strong team to face. We try the best we can. We cannot change too much in the few days we have at our disposal,” added Ghedin.
The Malta caoch is forced to make at least two changes from the game against Slovenia due to the unavailability of Andrei Agius and Rowen Muscat.
Andrew Hogg starts in goal with Ryan Camilleri expected to join Sam Magri and Zach Muscat as central defenders. Joseph Zerafa should start on the left flank with Cain Attard and Jacob Borg being the main candidates for the role on the right flank. The other option would be employing Camilleri on the right flank and utilising Clifford Gatt Baldacchino as one of the central defenders.
In midfield, Paul Fenech or Bjorn Kristensen should partner with Gareth Sciberras and Luke Gambin while in attack Andre Schembri should support Michael Mifsud or Jean Paul Farrugia.
The other players in the squad are Henry Bonello, Steve Pisani, Ryan Fenech, Mark Scerri and Luke Montebello.
Malta and Slovakia met six times since 1994. Slovakia won five of the matches with only one ending in a draw. In the only two matches played on local soil, Slovakia won 2-1 in a friendy match in March 1994 while in a World Cup qualifier in March 1997, Slovakia won 2-0.
The players selected by coach Jan Kozak are:
goalkeepers Matúš Kozáčik (Pilsen), Ján Novota (Rapid Vienna), Martin Dúbravka (Liberec)
defenders Peter Pekarík (Hertha Berlin), Martin Škrtel (Fenerbahce), Milan Škriniar (Sampdoria), Kornel Salata (Slovan), Tomáš Hubočan (Marseille), Norbert Gyömbér (Terek Grozny)
midfielders Jakub Holúbek (Zilina), Ján Greguš (FC Copenhagen), Patrik Hrošovský (Pilsen), Juraj Kucka (AC Milan), Filip Kiss (FK Haugesund), Stanislav Lobotka (FC Nordsjaelland), Erik Sabo (Beitar Jerusalem), Marek Hamšík (Napoli), Róbert Mak (St. Petersburg), Vladimír Weiss (Al Gharafa), Matúš Bero (Trabzonspor), Albert Rusnák (Real Salt Lake City )
forwards Michal Ďuriš (FK Orenburg), Adam Nemec (Dinamo Bucharest)
Tickets will be available for sale at all the Stadium Ticket Booths on Match-Day. Tickets for the West A and West C Stands cost €25 while tickets for the Millennium Stand – D and F cost € 15. The North and South Stands will not be opened for this match.
Local fans can purchase tickets for West C Stand, and Millennium D & F Stands while visiting fans can purchase tickets for West A Stand.