Malta coach Pietro Ghedin is counting on the pride of his players as Malta hots leaders England in a match from Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the National Stadioum on Friday, kick-off at 20:45.
Apart from the 1-5 defeat in the opening match against Scotland, this time last year, Malta lost four matches with a two-goal difference and one with a one goal difference. Malta is therefore yet to collect a first point from the group after suffering six defeats in as many matches, scoring two goals and conceding fifteen.
Trying to claim the first point on Friday is therefore a most difficult task, also considering that the visitors are hoping to edge closer to qualification with a win at Ta’ Qali.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Ghedin admitted Malta was facing a most difficult task in this top-bottom clash. He said that England were now one of the best teams in Europe and Malta could only do well if they show their pride and play for the shirt.
The Malta coach hopes the big crowd at the National Stadium will encourage the players further “to play for themselves, their family and the country. The most important thing is to give our hundred percent and try to leave the pitch with our heads held high.”
Ghedin added that since the appointment of Gareth Southgate as manager, England improved a lot and were doing well, even with the introduction of some new players. He said that although Wayne Rooney, who announced he was quitting the national team last week, was one of the best players, they have a lot of players who could replace him.
Andre Schembri said that recent performances at his new club, Apollon Limassol, in Cyprus gave him confidence and hopes he will be able to inspire his team mates.
“The last months with Apollon gave me confidence. Hopefully I can inspire the team to get points. We hope all of us give our very best and make Malta proud.”
Schembri stressed that being one of the senior players gives him great responsibility to take on each game in a positive way and to never feel inferior to our opponents.
Sam Magri, who just six years ago, played for England in the Under-17 World Cup along with Raheem Sterling and Nathaniel Chalobah, admitted that it was a big game for himself since he grew up in England. He said that after playing for the Malta Under-21 side which obtained a record number of points and his debut with the senior side in the game against Slovenia last November, it has been a good experience so far.
Ghedin is expected to make a few changes to the team which lost 2-0 to Slovenia in June, especially with the return of England-based duo Sam Magri and Luke Gambin and striker Jean Paul Farrugia, who is doing quite well at FC Chiasso in Switzerland.
Andrew Hogg will start in goal with Sam Magri, Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat in defence, Alex Muscat and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Steve Pisani, Bjorn Kristensen and Luke Gambin midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Jean Paul Farrugia in attack.
England manager Gareth Southgate is not taking the Malta game lightly. He said that this was an important match for England and altough Malta was at the bottom of the table, they were a very organised side who defends well.
Southgate is set to start with Joe Hart, Ryan Bertrand, Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, John Stones, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.
This will be the third clash between Malta and England. England won 1-0 in a European Championship qualifier in February 1971 wile in a friendly match in June 2000, England won 2-1.
The match will be controlled by Artur Dias from the Portuguese FA, assisted by assistant referees Rui Tavares and Paulo Soares and fourth official João Pinheiro.