Malta faces Slovenia at the Stadion Stožice in Ljubljana in another match from Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Saturday, kick-off at 18:00.
The Maltese are yet to collect a first point in the group after suffering five defeats in the first five matches. Five games in which Malta scored just two goals and conceded thirteen – five of which in the first outing against Scotland.
However a shock win over Ukraine at the Merkur Arena in Graz on Tuesday, courtesy of a Zach Muscat goal, has definitely lifted the morale of the boys in red, considering that it was the first win for Malta in two years following a 2-0 win over Lithuania in June 2015.
Addressing the media on Friday, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin said “It’s a qualifying game and therefore it is very important, also because we don’t have any points and we need to achieve our first point if this is possible. Slovenia are a very strong team. I watched many games of Slovenia, they have good support at home and strong foreign-based players. They have improved a lot in the last two to three years.”
“We will give how much we can and we can give a lot because the players are in a very good condition at the moment. We don’t have any injuries. Tomorrow’s game will be a tough one. We need to play with confidence. Normally, our confidence is low after we lose a game but the Malta team has improved a lot.”
With regards to the win over Ukraine, Ghedin said: “For us, it’s very important to win, friendly game or competitive, because it boosts your confidence. We are a small country but the players are in good form at the moment and I’m very happy. They suffered a bit against Ukraine who wanted to win the game but our performance was very positive.”
Malta lost 1-3 to Slovakia with Jean Paul Farrugia scoring the only goal but against Slovenia, Farrugia is one of the players ruled out after being sent off. Cain Attard and Paul Fenech are also unavailable while Gareth Sciberras decided to hang his boots. However in the last game against Ukraine, a number of players made their return, including Steve Borg, Alex Muscat, Clayton Failla, Ryan Fenech and Alfred Effiong apart from Andrei Agius who was suspended in the game against Slovenia.
Ghedin is not expected to make much changes to the team with Luton Town’s Luke Gambin expected to be one of the changes.
Andrew Hogg should start in goal with Steve Borg and Sam Magri fighting for a place as one of the central defenders along with Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat. Alex Muscat and Clayton Failla should, on the other hand, be confirmed in midfield.
Steve Pisani could retain his place in midfield along with Bjorn Kristensen and Luke Gambin. In attack, Alfred Effiong should be preferred to Michael Mifsud for the role of sole striker, supported by Andre Schembri.
Meanwhile Slovenia are currently third in Group F on 8 points following a 2-2 draw with Lithuania, a 1-0 win over Slovakia, a goalless draw with England and a narrow win over Malta before the narrow defeat to Scotland.
Head coach Srečko Katanec could not count on the suspended Valter Birsa, Miral Samardžić and Boštjan Cesar.
The players selected by the Slovenian coach are:
Jure Balkovec (Domžale), Vid Belec (Carpi), Robert Berić (St. Etienne), Roman Bezjak (Rijeka), Miha Blažič (Domžale), Josip Iličić (Fiorentina), Bojan Jokić (Ufa), Jan Koprivec (Anorthosis), Luka Krajnc (Frosinone), Rene Krhin (Granada), Jasmin Kurić (Atalanta), žan Majer (Domžale), Miha Mevlja (Rostov), Nemanja Mitrović (Olimpija), Antonio Mlinar Delamea (New England), Milivoje Novaković (Maribor), Jan Oblak (Atletico Madric), Nik Omladič (Eintracht Braunschweig), Matej Palčič (Maribor), Rajko Rotman (Kayserispor), Gregor Sikošek (Bröndby), Nejc Skubic (Konyaspor), Grega Sorčan (Gorica), Aljaž Struna (Carpi), Matija Širok (Domžale), Benjamin Verbič (Kobenhavn), Miha Zajc (Empoli).
Malta and Slovenia met five times. The two teams met twice in the Rothmans Tournament in February 1994 and February 1996 – the first game ending in a narrow win for Slovenia, the second in a goalless draw. In September 2002, Slovenia beat Malta 3-0 in Ljubljana and then in April 2003, Slovenia registered a 3-1 win at Ta’ Qali. Last November, Slovenia beat Malta 1-0 thanks to a goal by Verbic.
The match will be controlled by Welsh referee Lee Evans, assisted by assistant referees Philip Thomas and Daniel Beckett and fourth official Iwan Arwel Griffith.
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