Malta target positive start to EURO qualifiers

Malta will be aiming for a positive start as the national team, led by Ray Farrugia, hosts Faroe Islands in the first match from Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2020 at the National Stadium on Saturday, kick-off at 18:00.

Ironically Malta met the Faroe Islands in their last outing, in November, sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw. A draw which left Malta at the bottom of the table in Group D3 of the UEFA Nations League with just three points.

Since then, Ray Farrugia made a number of changes as he introduced more former Under-21 national team players to the senior squad. New players include Matthew Guillaumier, Karl Micallef and Nikolai Muscat and these join other young players like Joseph Mbong, Jake Grech, Dunstan Vella, Kyrian Nwoko and Juan Corbalan who were promoted to the senior squad during the UEFA Nations League campaign. Luke Montebello, John Mintoff and goalkeeper Justin Haber are back after a long absence.

On the other hand, goalkeeper Andrew Hogg, Luke Gambin, Jean Paul Farrugia and Jurgen Degabriele are ruled out injured.

Addressing the media on Friday, Farrugia said he that although they knew their opponents well, it would not be an easy game.

“We know our opponents well. It won’t be an easy game but we are prepared well. We know what they can offer. They have very valid players playing in Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Germany.”

“We have been together for a few days and the players know what we want from them. They are pushing themselves to the limit.”

Farrugia added that by having the players at his disposal a few days earlier was of huge benefit, even when taking into consideration that three days later, Malta faces group favourites Spain.

“The players are responding well. At this moment, we are focussing on the Faroe Islands game, then immediately after the game, we turn our focus on Spain. We need to go one step at a time and the first step is Faroe Islands.”

“Our aim is to win. They are ranked 97th while we are 182nd but we are doing better and better.”

“To be honest, when we lost 3-1 in Torshavn, it was still one of our best games. At home, especially considering our second half performance, we deserved to win. We did very well against Azerbaijan who only lost narrowly to Croatia on Thursday.”

“We are scoring goals and we will try to win this game.”

As regards the presence of new faces in the squad, the Malta coach said “After the Nations League, we said we will introduce new players. This is the first time we are introducing so many new players and this augurs well for future of the national team.”

Having most Premier League clubs fielding seven foreigners limits the choice for the Malta coach but Farrugia understands the clubs’ position.

“I understand what clubs want. Having limited choice does not help national team … it is not an ideal situation. But we have to go around it and we had the guts to introduce new players.”

Valletta defender Steve Borg added that although they know quite well that the Faroe Islands have a talented squad, the players believed in themselves.

“We believe in ourselves – in this group of players we have. We will do everything to get a positive result and if possible, the three points.”

Borg denied that there is more pressure when playing against teams which are more or less on our level. “If we play against Spain and we get a terrible result, it’s on us. We learn from experience. We focus game by game and give our hundred per cent in that game.”

“We all believe this could be our day. We hope to start the competition with the three points.”

Ray Farrugia revealed that one or two players are set to make their debut on Friday. Birkirkara midfielder Matthew Guillaumier could be the one to be named in the starting line-up. Luke Montebello, who already made a short appearance for the national team against Slovakia in March 2016 when he was included as a substitute, is also in line to start on Saturday.

Malta seeks its first home win in a competitive match since October 11, 2006 when Malta had defeated Hungary 2-1 in a EURO 2008 qualifier.

Against the Faroe Islands, Malta won just once – a friendly match in November 2013. In the other matches played at Ta’ Qali, Malta lost 1-2 in a World Cup qualifier in 1997 and last November, the two teams shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw.

Like Malta, the Faroe Islands seek a winning start. The contingent arrived in Malta on Monday to prepare better for this fixture. Having defeated Malta in three of the four competitive matches played so far, they will be aiming for the three points on Saturday.

The match will be controlled by referee Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson from Iceland.