After suffering a heavy 0-5 defeat to Kosovo, Malta aims at bouncing back with a win as the national team hosts the Faroe Islands in the final match from Group D3 of the UEFA Nations League at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:45.
Kosovo lead the way with 11 points from five matches, two ahead of Azerbaijan while the Faroe Islands lie on four points, two ahead of Malta. Kosovo need just a draw from their game against Azerbaijan in Pristina to secure the top spot in the group and promotion together with a place in the EURO 2020 play-offs in March 2020. On the other hand, the clash between the Faroe Islands and Malta will determine which team will avoid the bottom spot.
Malta earned its only points in two 1-1 draws with Azerbaijan. The Faroe Islands, on the other hand, defeated Malta 3-1 in the opening match, then lost 2-0 to Kosovo in Pristina, 0-3 to Azebaijan in Torshavn and after holding Kosovo in a 1-1 draw at home, they lost 2-0 to Azerbaijan in Baku last Saturday.
The only chance for Malta to avoid the bottom spot in League D3 is to defeat the Faroe Islands. This will definitely be no easy task, considering that in five previous encounters, Malta won just one game – a friendly match in November 2013. The other four matches – two World Cup qualifiers in 1997, a friendly match in 2004 and last September’s clash – all ended in wins for the Faroe Islands.
Addressing the media on Monday, Malta coach Ray Farrugia said that after the heavy defeat to Kosovo, he is looking forward for this game although he admitted that it will be a difficult game especially after last Saturday’s defeat.
“Hopefully we will rise to the occasion. These last two days, my job was to lift the morale of the players. We had a good discussion about the game. I am very disappointed and hurt and also the players are disappointed and hurt with the result. This is a great occasion for us to bounce back.”
“There is good chemistry between us. The majority of the players I know them inside out. They know how I work. I worked hard on motivating the players and on Tuesday, I will only be happy if we win. In the away match (against the Faroe Islands), we played a good game but we lost.”
When asked whether the bottom spot would be a sign of failure, Farrugia said “I will be disappointed. We are trying to build for the future by introducing new players. Tomorrow we have a good chance not to finish last for the first time. Apart from the Kosovo game, there were good signs for the future. We hopefully rise to the occasion.”
On the other hand, he would not regard a third place as a success. “A win would be a step forward but it is not a success. We would be happy but cannot consider this as a success. The aim is always to finish first but this was the most difficult group.”
Photo: Copyright © domenic aquilina
As regards the Kosovo game, the Malta coach said the heavy defeat was the result of “individual mistakes. By the time we conceded second goal, we were playing well. Everyone knows how the morale goes down after conceding two goals.”
The inclusion of two strikers a few minutes before Malta conceded the second goal brought criticism but Farrugia argued “We were losing 0-1, we tried to push more but did not work. To criticize is very easy but what about if we had won. There was a good intention behind the substitutions We tried to change something. It does not mean that another time it would not work. We will keep trying. ”
“I think what we need to do is to believe more in ourselves – in our capabilities. I think this is the only thing we need to change – the mentaality. There is a good crop of players – experienced players and young ones.”
“I am a fighter. I keep fighting. If they knock me down, I go up and continue fighting. I believe in Maltese football.”
Rowen Muscat added that the players are looking forward to playing this game.
“In football you are always good as in your last match.”
“Against Kosovo, we had sixty positive minutes but we need to put behind the last thirty minutes and concentrate only on the positive. In matches like these you cannot concede such individual mistakes. The first goal arrived by mistake. The coach made two changes which I think was good idea at the moment. Then we committed a second mistake and the team mentally collapsed.”
Photo: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar
The Malta coach revealed that he would be making a number of changes from the Kosovo game. Andrei Agius and Steve Borg will be back after serving a one-match ban but Alfred Effiong and Luke Gambin are unavailable.
“There will be a number of changes apart from the inclusion of Andrei and Steve. We will have some fresh legs.”
He went on to confirm that both Joseph Mbong and Juan Corbalan will be named in the starting line-up.
Andrew Hogg will start in goal with Steve Borg, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri or Zach Muscat at the back, Joseph Mbong and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks; Paul Fenech should join Rowen Muscat in midfield with Juan Corbalan and Michael Mifsud supporting Andre Schembri in attack as the Apollon Limassol striker wears the national team shirt for the last time.