Malta will be aiming at ending its home commitments in Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup on a positive note as Pietro Ghedin’s side entertains Lithuania at the National Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 20:45.
So far, Malta suffered eight defeats in as many matches, scoring just two goals and conceding twenty-one and the clash with Lithuania offers the only realistic chance of obtaining a first positive result in the group. However this will be no easy task as Lithuania already claimed five points in a win over Malta in June and a home draw with Slovenia and a draw with Scotland away from home.
To make matters worse, Ghedin, in his penultimate game as Malta coach, could not field his best formation. Jonathan Caruana and Ryan Fenech are suspended – the former after being suspended for four years on doping charges and the latter after collecting a second yellow card in the game against Scotland. Alex Muscat will be on the sidelines for a number of weeks while over the past days, Bjorn Kristensen, Michael Mifsud and Jean Paul Farrugia had to be dropped from the squad due to injuries.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Ghedin said “It is very important for us to leave a good impression and get a positive result – a victory is possible.”
“However we lack several players. In the last few days we lost important players like Jean Paul Farrugia, Michael Mifsud and Bjorn Kristensen. However the shape of the team will stay more or less the same. We have one last session today (Wednesday) and tomorrow we will see the condition of the players.”
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The Malta coach denied that his tactics were too defensive.
“Normally my focus is not on defence but on team balance. For example, currently we do not have a lot of experienced strikers and wingers. I try to put the best players in the right place. Everytime we try to do our best.”
“We will see …. Lithuania are a strong team and have several players playing abroad. They improved a lot and are doing well in the tournament.”
Defender Zach Muscat, who is playing in Italy for Arezzo, added “This is a game from which we could get the points. We know quite well our strenghts and weaknesses. In the last games, there were times when we were doing well and we believe that against Lithuania, if we are confident enough, we could get the points.”
Muscat concluded by thanking Ghedin for having faith in him and giving him the chance to turn out for the national team.
From the game against Scotland which Malta lost 2-0 in Hampden Park last month, Ghedin is forced to make at least two changes due to the absence of Bjorn Kristensen and Ryan Fenech. Andrew Hogg is set to start in goal with Sam Magri, Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat as the three central defenders, Steve Borg and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Steve Pisani and probably Paul Fenech and Luke Gambin in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack.
This will be the fifth clash between Malta and Lithuania. In the three matches played in Malta, the two teams shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw in the Rothmans Tournament in February 2002; Lithuania registered a 4-1 win in a friendly match in November 2006 while in June 2015, Malta defeated Lithuania 2-0.
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