Malta to play more offensive football as it hosts Estonia

Malta coach Tom Saintfiet said that Malta will be playing more offensive football as the national team hosts Estonia in a friendly match at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 15:00. A game which will be marking the debut of the forty-four year old Belgian coach as Malta national coach.

Addressing the media on Saturday, Saintfiet said that after one week working with the squad, he was really pleased with the motivation shown by the players and that all of them were fully fit and geared for the game.

Saintfiet admitted that Malta went through a bad period which saw the team lose ground in the FIFA Ranking and collecting just one point from the World Cup qualifiers. He said that he had to change strategy although he admitted that it would take time until Malta would start getting good results.

The Belgian coach said that under Ghedin, Malta was playing defensive but organised football in a 5-3-1-1 formation and he aimed to change this into a 4-2-3-1 formation where there would be two central midfielders – a creative one and another who can recover the ball. With regards to this, Saintfiet pointed out that Bjorn Kristensen – the only notable absentee from the usual squad – was a creative midfielder but had just recovered from an injury and for this reason, he selected Ryan Fenech for the role who in his opinion was doing very well along with the in-form Triston Caruana.

As regards the presence of twenty-year olds Kyrian Nwoko of Valletta and Stefan Cassar of Nadur Youngsters, Tom Sainfiet said “The national team is there to implement new young players. There would be a moment when you would need them and that is why I try to prepare them for the future. For the older players, they have to feel the pressure that there are new players ready to take your place.”

“Experienced players like Mifsud, Schembri, etc. are very important for the team. We have a lot of quality players and these will help the younger players a lot for them to grow and be ready in the coming years. I do not want to burn the young players. I want to select them now to start getting the experience.”

When asked when will be the time that Malta would start getting positive results, the Belgian coach said “I am very realistic. For a team like Luxembourg, or the Faroe Islands, to move into the top 100, it took them time. Not only the coach will get that. Clubs have their own responsibility and the players too. I have too few players playing abroad and therefore there were not so many professionals. You have to restructure clubs and a professional mindset of the players.

“However as a coach, I want a positive result from each game,” added Saintfiet.

The Malta coach said he was sure the players always gave everything under Ghedin but he had a different mindset from Ghedin.

“We have to start every game thinking how can we get a good result and now how small can be the defeat.”

For this first outing against Estonia, Saintfiet said that this was a difficult game for Estonia as they were considered a strong team who collected eleven points from a group which included Belgium, Greece, Bosnia Herzegovina, Cyprus and Gibraltar. He said he saw them in action five times and should be a strong opponent for Malta, also considered that they are currently ranked 80th, compared to Malta’s 182nd place.

Meanwhile Malta’s most-capped player and leading scorer Michael Mifsud said that all the players are excited for this first game under the guidance of Tom Saintfiet. He said the players worked really hard and are now looking forward for this game, hoping for a good performance and hopefully a good result.

When asked about his future with the national team, Mifsud said “Age is just a number. As long as I am fit and am considered for selected by the national coach, I will be at his disposal.”

Saintfiet is expected to start with Andrew Hogg in goal, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius, Zach Muscat and Joseph Zerafa in defence, Paul Fenech and Ryan Fenech as the two central midfielders, Steve Pisani, Andre Schembri and Luke Gambin as the three offensive midfielders and Michael Mifsud or Alfred Effiong in attack.

Malta and Estonia met five times with Malta winning 1-0 in Tallinn in a World Cup qualifier in May 1993 and 5-2 in a match from the Malta International Tournament in February 2004. In the other three matches, the two teams shared the spoils in a goalless draw in a World Cup qualifier in October 1992 at Ta’ Qali while in two friendly matches in Estonia, the hosts won 2-1 in August 2008 and then drew 1-1 in August 2016.

Entrance for the game is for free.

The match will be controlled by referees from Kosovo, namely referee Genc Nuza, assistant referees Fatlum Berisha and Bujar Selimaj and fourth official Trustin Farrugia Cann.