Coach Pietro Ghedin will be leading Malta for the last time as the national team faces Slovakia in the final match from Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Štadión Antona Malatinského in Trnava, kick-off at 18:00.
Malta earned its first point in the group last Thursday thanks to a 1-1 draw with Lithuania at Ta’ Qali and will therefore try to end its commitments on a high with a good performance and possibly a positive result. However this will be no easy task considering the current situation in Group F where Slovakia, Slovenia and Scotland are still entangled in a battle for the runner-up spot with Scotland lying on the 17-point mark, two ahead of Slovakia and three ahead of Slovenia. In fact, Martin Skrtel’s own goal one minute from time to hand Scotland a win complicated matters for Slovakia.
At this point, Slovakia will finish second if they beat Malta and Scotland fail to beat Slovenia as in case of a draw in the latter match, meaning that Slovakia and Scotland would be level on points, Slovakia will finish second on goal difference.
On the other hand, Scotland will seal second place with a win, or a draw if Slovakia do not beat Malta while Slovenia must beat Scotland and hope Slovakia do not win to finish second on goal difference.
Addressing the media on Saturday, Ghedin said that this was a very difficult game for Malta since Slovakia are fighting for the runner-up spot. He said that Slovakia were a very strong team, made up of players who play in some of the top leagues in Europe, who had an excellent campaign in these qualifiers.
However the Malta coach said that the draw with Lithuania gave his team new confidence. Despite the absence of a number of important players, he said he was confident that the players who would be replacing them would rise to the occasion.
Defender Ryan Camilleri said the players were well aware of the strength of their opponents but they are looking forward for the game to perform and get a good result. He said that the main objective would be that of limiting the damage and contain the Slovak team who will be all out to get the three points.
Apart from players like Bjorn Kristensen, Michael Mifsud and Jean Paul Farrugia who failed to make the trip due to injuries and Zach Muscat who is suspended, Ghedin will be able to field his best formation as Andre Schembri is expected to be fully fit despite having to abandon the pitch injured in half-time on Thursday.
Ghedin is not expected to make much changes to the team with the inclusion of Ryan Fenech probably being the only change as he replaces Zach Muscat. In such case, the Malta coach could opt for a 4-1-4-1 or even 4-4-2 formation.
The starting line-up should therefore be Andrew Hogg, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius, Ryan Camilleri, Joseph Zerafa, Steve Pisani, Paul Fenech, Ryan Fenech, Luke Gambin, Andre Schembri and Alfred Effiong.
This will be the eighth clash between Malta and Slovakia – the fourth to be played on Slovak soil. Malta held Slovakia in a 1-1 draw in a friendly match in Bratislava in August 1994 but two years later – in September 1996, Slovakia registered a 6-0 win in a World Cup qualifier. More recently, in August 2006, Slovakia won 3-0 in a friendly match while in September 2014, Slovakia registered a narrow win in Zilina in another friendly match.