Ray Farrugia will take charge of his first match since his appointment as national coach when Malta face Armenia in a friendly match at the Gernot Langes Stadion in the Austrian city of Wattens on Tuesday, kick-off 19.00.
The Maltese squad have been training regularly for the past two weeks in preparation for the Armenia friendly and the one against Georgia on Friday, two games which are a key part of the team’s build-up for the inaugural UEFA Nations League. Malta’s opponents in Group D3 are Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands and Kosovo.
Farrugia has brought a group of 23 players to Austria, including six players who have been promoted from the Malta U-21 squad – Hibernians trio Jurgen Degabriele, Joseph Mbong and Dunstan Vella, Birkirkara midfielder Jake Grech, Valletta striker Kyrian Nwoko and Myles Beerman, who is on the books of Scottish club Glasgow Rangers.
Despite losing a host of established players to injury, Farrugia remains cautiously optimistic.
“Things are looking good, notwithstanding the fact that Andrè Schembri, Bjorn Kristensen, Zach Muscat, Jean Paul Farrugia and Johann Bezzina are out of this training camp due to injuries,” the Malta coach told the MFA’s official website – www.mfa.com.mt.
“However, there are the young players in the group, we have promoted six from the U-21 squad and we are looking forward to seeing them in these games. They have done very well in training and this is a new experience for them, one that bodes well for the future of the team.”
Farrugia and his assistant Branko Nisevic have also opted for experience as the likes of captain Michael Mifsud, the recalled Andrew Cohen and Roderick Briffa are flanked by several established players who have featured regularly for the national team in recent years.
Photo: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar
The Malta coach praised the attitude shown by all the players during training.
“The attitude and commitment of all the players have been excellent, there is little to say about that… I’m very pleased,” Farrugia said. “These games are important as we are building up for the UEFA Nations League which is drawing closer. All the players will be gaining useful match experience, especially the young prospects. This experience should aid their progress ahead of the Nations League as, at the end of the day, these players represent the present and future of the national team.”
With Armenia and Georgia regarded as similar opponents to Azerbaijan and Kosovo, two of three teams in Malta’s Nations League group, these friendlies are very important for our preparations for this new European competition starting in September.
“They are very similar, especially Armenia when compared to Kosovo,” Farrugia said. “Naturally, our focus is on Armenia as our next match is against them. Armenia are technically very good. For us, these are very important games. It’s true that June is a delicate month for the Maltese players but these are very useful tests to prepare for the future. We have a blend of experience and youth in our squad, the intensity in training has been very good and now we hope that the work we have done over the past two weeks will result in a bold performance against Armenia.”
Although Farrugia is aware of the scale of the task awaiting him, he remains positive.
“The difficulties are still there but we are here to try and resolve these problems. This will be a gradual and difficult process and we need everybody’s support but I believe we are heading in the right direction.”
Armenia, who collected seven points in the 2018 World Cup qualifying Group E, won by Poland, have been drawn against Macedonia, Liechtenstein and Gibraltar in Group D4 of the UEFA Nations League. Their talisman is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who plays for English Premier League club Arsenal.
Malta won the last meeting with Armenia in 2013 as a Michael Mifsud goal handed our team a 1-0 victory in a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Yerevan.