Malta takes on the Faroe Islands in the first match from the inaugural UEFA Nations League – League D Group 3 at the Tórsvøllur in Tórshavn on Friday, kick-off at 20:45.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Malta coach Ray Farrugia said Friday’s clash should be an interesting game.
“We are all looking forward. The players are look really motivated. This is the game which opens the group. Hopefully we start on a good note.”
“This is a very interesting competition for such countries. This gives us new opportunities which sometimes are not to be missed. If you prepare well, we have a chance like others. Luck also plays its part but if we prepare well, anything is possible.”
Photo (1): Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar
This will be Ray Farrugia’s competitive debut after he led the team in the two friendly matches against Armenia and Georgia three months ago during a training camp in Austria. Malta drew 1-1 with Armenia but lost 0-1 to Georgia.
Farrugia is aware of the strength of the opponents. The Faroe Islands are in fact ranked much higher than Malta – 90th compared to Malta’s 184th.
“They came a long way and are on the right track. We have great respect for them. The game can go either way. Even when playing away from home, both teams are equal”
The Malta coach stressed that the team is a combination of experience and youth whereas before it was just experience.
“We need to change the mentality. The players have to enjoy playing football and not feel the pressure.”
“After a long time, there is a sense of relaxation and enjoyment … and this is a very good sign for all the players,” concluded Ray Farrugia.
Farrugia is expected to adopt a more offensive approach with Andrew Hogg, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius, Zach Muscat, Joseph Mbong, Rowen Muscat, Paul Fenech, Joseph Zerafa, Michael Mifsud, Andre Schembri and Alfred Effiong.
The other players at the disposal of Ray Farrugia are Henry Bonello, Steve Sultana, Ferdinando Apap, Ryan Camilleri, Michael Johnson, Johann Bezzina, Roderick Briffa, Juan Corbalan, Ryan Fenech, Stephen Pisani, Andrew Cohen, Jean Paul Farrugia.
Malta captain Michael Mifsud said that the team is looking forward for obtaining a positive result from this game.
“We have been training together for the last two weeks. We know what we are capable of and hope to take something from this game.”
“This competition is a good opportunity for everyone and we will try to get this opportunity. This is an incentive to step up our performance,” added Mifsud.
With regards to Malta’s chances in the competition, Joseph Mbong added that one could not rule out Malta’s chances, “We prepared well for this game. We have a good team and we have good players. If we perform and do all what our coach tells us, why not !”
Meanwhile Faroe Islands coach Lars Olsen, who has been leading the team since 2011, said the players had been together since Monday.
“We had very training sessions. The players seem happy and they are fit for fight. We are looking forward for the match.”
Olsen said he had a lot of respect for Malta. He added that five years ago, the Faroe Islands had lost a friendly match against Malta by the odd goal in five. On Friday, he is looking forward to doing better. Eight of the players who were in the Faroe Islands team in that game in November 2013 are part of the current squad. On the other hand, Andrew Hogg, Andrei Agius, Roderick Briffa, Andrew Cohen, Ryan Fenech, Michael Mifsud and Andre Schembri were in the starting eleven for Malta in that game with Ryan Fenech and Michael Mifsud, along with Jonathan Caruana, scoring the goals.
Ironically that was the only win for Malta as the Faroe Islands prevailed on another three occasions. In two World Cup qualifiers leading to the 1998 World Cup, Malta lost 1-2 both at Ta’ Qali in April 1997 and in Toftir in June 1997. The two teams met once again in a friendly match in Toftir in August 2014 with the Faroe Islands winning 3-2.
Ranked 90th in the FIFA World Ranking, the Faroe Islands start as favourites to win the group.
“In groups like this, home matches are very important and if we want to win the group, we have to win. We’ll do our best tomorrow,” said the former Danish national team defender who had lifted the EURO 92 trophy as captain of Denmark.
“Matches will be very equal but when you play at home, you have to win.” Lars Olsen added, “There is always pressure to win at home. But we are used to that.”
When asked about his analysis of the Maltese national team, the Faroe Islands coach said “I have seen five or six matches. But under the new coach, they played only two matches against Armenia and Georgia and so those were the most important matches to watch.”
He mentioned the presence of Michael Mifsud and Roderick Briffa, saying they “are still going strong.”
Faroe Islands captain Atli Gregersen said that the UEFA Nations League provided a gateway for teams to qualify for the EURO 2020.
“We will be playing against equally strong team and this is opportunity for us to qualify for EURO. The concept is very interesting. We hope for a good start.”
Gregersen said that the players are considering one game at a time and therefore they are now fully focussed on the Malta game.
The Faroe Islands squad includes a number of players based in Iceland, Norway and Denmark and Jóan Símun Edmundsson who plays Arminia Bielefeld in Germany.
The full squad is made up of:
Gunnar Nielsen (FH – ICE), Teitur Matras Gestsson (HB), Kristian Joensen (KÍ), Atli Gregersen (Víkingur), Odmar Færø (B36), Viljormur Davidsen (Vejle BK – DEN), Jógvan Rói Davidsen (HB), Sonni Ragnar Nattestad (Molde BK – NOR), Alex Mellemgaard (B36), Heini Vatnsdal (BK Fremad Amager – DEN), Gunnar Vatnhamar (Víkingur), Magnus Egilsson (HB), Kaj Leo í Batrtalsstovu (ÍBV – ICE), Gilli Rólantsson Sørensen (SK Brann – NOR), Rene Shaki Joensen (Grindavík – ICE), Tróndur Jensen (HB), Sølvi Vatnhamar (Víkingur), Hallur Hansson (AC Horsens – DEN), Brandur Hendriksson Olsen (FH – ICE), Rógvi Baldvinsson (Bryne BK – NOR), Finnur Justinussen (Næstved BK – DEN), Jóan Símun Edmundsson (Arminia Bielefeld – GER), Klæmint Andrasson Olsen (NSÍ).
The match will be controlled by officials from Finland: referee Ville Nevalainen, assistant referees Jan-Peter Aravirta and Mika Lamppu, additional assistant referees Petri Viljanen and Dennis Antamo and fourth official Jukka Honkanen.
What is the UEFA Nations League?
The UEFA Nations League is a new competition that aims to ensure the continued success of national team football by replacing most friendlies with competitive matches and by allowing all nations to play against equally ranked teams.
The teams were split into four leagues, A–B–C–D, according to their position in the UEFA National Team Coefficient Rankings.
League A consists of the 12 top-ranked teams. The next 12 teams are in League B, the next 15 in League C and the remaining 16 in League D. Leagues A and B each comprise four groups of three teams. League C contains one group of three teams and three groups of four sides; League D is formed by four groups of four teams.
The four group winners of League A will qualify for the UEFA Nations League Finals, to be held in June 2019, with two semi-finals, a third-place match and the final. The group winners in Leagues B, C and D will gain promotion and those who finish bottom of the groups in Leagues A, B and C will be relegated.
National teams will thus either be competing to become UEFA Nations League winners, or be fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation.
Qualifying for UEFA EURO 2020
Qualifying for UEFA EURO 2020 remains largely the same (with 24 finalists in all), although the European Qualifiers will now begin in the March after a major tournament instead of immediately in September (i.e. March 2019 in this case). No team will gain automatic qualification as hosts (there are 13 host nations in all).
Qualifying group stage (20 teams qualify)
The teams will be split into ten groups of five or six, and the top two from each group will qualify for the final tournament, determining the first 20 places.
The last four EURO places will be won through the European Qualifiers play-offs, which will be contested by the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners (i.e. the four group winners in each of the four divisions).
Each league will have a path of its own and each path will feature two single-leg semi-finals and one single-leg final. The winner of each path will win a ticket to UEFA EURO 2020.
If a UEFA Nations League group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league. If a league does not have four teams to compete, the remaining slots are allocated to teams from another league, according to the overall UEFA Nations League rankings.