Malta hosts group leaders Kosovo in another match from Group D3 of the UEFA Nations League at the National Stadium on Saturday, kick-off at 18:00.
From the four matches played so far, Malta collected two points in two draws with Azerbaijan – a 1-1 draw at Ta’ Qali and another 1-1 draw in Baku. Malta had lost the opening match to the Faroe Islands 3-1 in Torshavn and last month, Malta suffered another 3-1 defeat to Kosovo in Pristina.
Addressing the media on Friday, Malta coach Ray Farrugia said this will be a difficult game as he is well-aware of the quality of the opponents. However he is confident following the good performance against Azerbaijan in Baku.
“After the game against Kosovo, our performance against Azerbaijan was very positive. It was a good comeback after the Kosovo game.”
“It will be a difficult game. We know their strength and have been preparing for these games for several months. The atmosphere within the squad is great. Each players knows exactly what is expected from him.”
Two key players in defence – Steve Borg and Andrei Agius are ruled out as they received a second yellow card and are therefore suspended but Malta welcomes back Zach Muscat, Luke Gambin and Jonathan Caruana.
“Steve and Andrei are important players in the team. However Luke Gambin and Zach Muscat are set to start. Jonathan Caruana will also be a sure-starter.”
“I have faith in all the players in the squad. The young players are getting the chance to play for the senior side and the more experienced players have opened the doors for them. This is something very positive.”
“Players like Joseph Mbong, Juan Corbalan and Jake Grech provided a new dimension to the team and I am looking forward to adding players like Dunstan Vella and Matthew Guillaumier.”
“We need the experienced players to support the younger ones. This is the only way forward and I believe that we are on the right track.”
“Against Kosovo, our plan will be the same – avoid giving them the space that we gave them away from home. In Kosovo, our goal arrived when we were pressing. We knew that they are a strong team but when we pressed we created chances. We did the same against Azerbaijan. We have to take the risks in order to create more chances. The more you press the more you create chances,” concluded Farrugia.
Andre Schembri, who plays his penultimate match for the national team, after announcing earlier this week that these would be the last two national team matches for him, is confident Malta will get a positive result.
“We had the chance to prepare well for these games. We will go out to gain points and I am confident and optimistic that Malta will get a positive result. Before we used to defend but now we are pressing. Physically and tactically we are better prepared.”
With regards to his career with the national team, Schembri added “I believe that first of all, playing for the national team is serving your country. There is nothing more beautiful than representing your country. There were several positive memories, for example, the away win over Armenia, and others which were not so positive. I spent the last twenty years in the various categories of the national team. I believe that it is now the time for me to give space to the younger players. This would also give them the chance to shine with the national team and possibly move abroad.”
The two young players who were handed a place in the starting line-up in the past matches – Joseph Mbong and Juan Corbalan are expected to start once again.
Andrew Hogg should start in goal with Jonathan Caruana, Ryan Camilleri and Zach Muscat as the three central defenders, Mbong and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Rowen Muscat and Paul Fenech in midfield with Corbalan and Luke Gambin supporting Andre Schembri. Another option would be the inclusion of Michael Mifsud as striker with Schembri replacing one of the midfielders.
Meanwhile Kosovo lead the way in League D3 with eight points, following a goalless draw with Azerbaijan in Baku, two home wins over the Faroe Islands and Malta and a 1-1 draw with the Faroe Islands in Torshavn. In Malta, they chase their first away win which would put them closer to a place in the play-offs for the EURO 2020 spot in March 2020. In their last game, they host Azerbaijan and a draw would be enough in case of a win on Saturday.