Following a good performance in a narrow defeat to Romania in Ploiesti last month, Malta takes on Sweden in another match from Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2020 at the National Stadium on Saturday, kick-off at 20:45.
These will be in fact four important days for the national team as three days later, Malta faces the Faroe Islands in Torshavn in what could be a decisive game to avoid the bottom spot in the group.
Malta is coming from five defeats in the last five matches following a 2-1 win in the opening game against the Faroe Islands in March but last month’s performance against Romania away from home fills the team with courage ahead of these two games.
Addressing the media on Friday, Malta coach Ray Farrugia said these will be two important games for Malta.
“We have two important games. We go game by game, starting from the one against Sweden and then we focus on the Faroe Islands game. “
“Our forte is unity among the players and a good atmosphere in the dressing room. We do not have star players. The twenty-three man squad is our star player. We work hard together, I believe we are moving on the right track and after the Romania game, we hope to continue moving further ahead.”
“We worked hard on Saturday’s game and the players are well-prepared.”
Asked whether the team will be more focussed on the Faroe Islands considering that it is the game which could determine which team will avoid the bottom spot. “Every game is important. We have planned on this. Everytime we play we have a double-header – two games in three days. Therefore if you do not have fresh players for the second game, you would suffer.”
“The second game for us is of utmost importance and therefore we prepared well for both games, keeping in mind to have fresh legs for the Faroe Islands game. “
“Against Sweden in June, during the first forty-five minutes, we played good football and we could have even scored twice. However in the second half our level went down. I believe our mentality has to change a bit and and we should believe more in ourselves. If we play more as a team, as we did in the game against Romania – everytime we had the ball, we showed that we can move forward. Physically, we improved a lot.”
“We are not thinking about the Faroe Islands game. We are focussing on this one first as you are always as good as your last game. If the performance against Sweden is good, then the morale for the Faroe Islands game would be higher and we would be better prepared.”
Asked on the possible replacement for Corbalan, Farrugia said that he has not yet decided, considering the two matches but once again stressed on the need fresh legs, especially with regards to the cold weather and the artificial pitch in the Faroe Islands.
“We all know what Michael Mifsud did for Maltese football. We cannot forgot what he did. For us, he can be of utmost importance for the Faroe Islands game.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to win that game with a goal by Michael Mifsud? He can give us a lot in that game. Winning two games in one group is something we rarely dream of. If we win this game against the Faroe Islands, it would be great. This is our objective. That is what we are preparing for.”
Rowen Muscat added, “Now that we are approaching the end of this campaign, matches become more important. These are two crucial games for us since we are coming from a very good display in our last game. We have a game in which we could build on the good performance against Romania and gain more confidence ahead of the clash with the Faroe Islands which is obviously the more important out of these two games.”
“We have been working together for the past five days. We already met these two teams, we know how they play and therefore we worked on how are we going to face them. We start step by step, first from the game on Saturday. We need to do well against Sweden so that we could be better prepared for the clash with the Faroe Islands.”
Keeping in mind Ray Farrugia’s plan to leave fresh legs for the Faroe Islands game, it would be no surprise the Malta coach rests some of the players, especially ones who were already cautioned in previous games.
Henry Bonello should start in goal but Jonathan Caruana could replace Steve Borg along with Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat at the back. In the absence of Corbalan, Joseph Mbong will probably be employed on the right with Joseph Zerafa taking his place on the left. Dunstan Vella, Rowen Muscat and Luke Gambin retain their place in midfield with Alfred Effiong probably joining Kyrian Nwoko in attack.
Sweden are currently second in the group on 11 points, seven behind Spain, one ahead of Romania and two ahead of Norway. They defeated Romania 2-1 at home, drew 3-3 with Norway away from home, defeated Malta 3-0 in Solna, lost 3-0 to Spain in Madrid and defeated the Faroe Islands 4-0 away from home before a 1-1 draw with Norway at home.
Sweden collected four points from their opening two qualifiers. They beat Romania 2-1 and drew 3-3 away to Norway.
Malta and Sweden met twelve times with the Swedish emerging as winners in all games. The ‘best’ results at home were two 1-2 defeats in November 1973 and November 1975 and a 0-1 defeat in September 2009. However in 2004, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four in a 7-0 win at Ta’ Qali.
In June, an early goal by Robin Quaison after just two minutes, another by Viktor Claesson early in the second half and a later goal by Alexander Isak handed Sweden a 3-0 win at the Friends Arena.