Malta plays the third match from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, facing World Cup runners-up Croatia at the Stadion HNK Rijeka in Rijeka on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:45.
This will be the third match against a finalist from the EURO 2020, which was due to be held last summer but which will now kick-off in June, after hosting Russia on Wednesday and facing Slovakia on Saturday. Despite all odds, in the first two matches, Malta did quite well. The boys in red lost 1-3 to Russia at Ta’ Qali, playing an excellent second half and against Slovakia, the Maltese managed to go two-goals ahead in a brilliant first half although Slovakia rescued a point with two quick-fire goals early in the second half.
Croatia should be an even more difficult test considering they are ranked 11th, compared to Slovakia’s 34th and Russia’ 39th.
Photos: Copyright Mark Zammit Cordina / Malta FA
Addressing the media on Monday, Malta coach Devis Mangia said, “Although Croatia are going through a transition, they are still a very strong team. All the teams in Group H are strong, especially from a physical point-of-view but it’s clear that Croatia are a more technical team compared to the other sides.”
“The attitude of our players will be very important but I have no doubt about that,” added Mangia.
Hamrun Spartans midfielder Matthew Guillaumier admitted that playing three competitive matches in a week proved challenging for the players, both physically and mentally, adding that the team has to be fully focussed psychologically ahead of this match.
Referring to the Slovakia game, Guillaumier admitted that conceding two goals from set-pieces on the restart of the second half was disappointing but the team did fight back.
“We tried to remain strong mentally and we managed as we had to deal with more pressure from our opponents. We fought back and even tried our best to regain the lead and take home the three points. We had our chances. Our mentality is to play our football, no matter who our opponents are, and not fear anyone. “
Mangia would not reveal which changes he could make for Tuesday’s game saying he will make his final decisions after the last training session. However, he confirmed that he has the full squad at his disposal.
For the game against Slovakia, he made four changes including Enrico Pepe, Luke Gambin, Paul Mbong and Alex Satariano. Gambin and Satariano managed to score the two goals which put Malta two goals ahead in Trnava.
Henry Bonello should start in goal with Steve Borg, Enrico Pepe, Andrei Agius, Kurt Shaw and Zach Muscat fighting for one of the three places at the back. Borg and Shaw played both matches with Agius playing against Russia and Pepe against Slovakia.
In midfield, there should be no changes with Teddy Teuma and Matthew Guillaumier as the two central defenders with Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli on the flanks. In attack, Luke Gambin and Alex Satariano are favourites to start with Paul Mbong, Luke Montebello, Jurgen Degabriele and Kyrian Nwoko fighting for the other spot. Mbong was included as a substitute in the game against Russia and was substituted against Slovakia. Montebello and Degabriele started the game against against Russia while Nwoko was included as a substitute in both matches.
The full squad is made up of:
GOALKEEPERS Henry Bonello (Valletta); Matthew Calleja Cremona (Hibernians); Jake Galea (Sliema Wanderers).
DEFENDERS Andrei Agius (Hibernians); Steve Borg (Gżira United); Karl Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans); Zach Muscat (Casa Pia AC – Portugal); Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara); Kurt Shaw (Sliema Wanderers).
MIDFIELDERS Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana); Juan Corbalan (Ħamrun Spartans); Matthew Guillaumier (Ħamrun Spartans); Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians); Joseph Mbong (Ħamrun Spartans); Nikolai Muscat (Gżira United); Steven Pisani (Gżira United); Teddy Teuma (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise – Belgium); Dexter Xuereb (Gżira United).
FORWARDS Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians); Shaun Dimech (Valletta); Luke Gambin (Newport County AFC – England); Jake Grech (Hibernians); Paul Mbong (Birkirkara); Luke Montebello (Birkirkara); Kyrian Nwoko (Valletta); Alexander Satariano (Sliema Wanderers).
This will be the ninth clash between Malta and Croatia – the fifth on Croatian soil. Croatia won 2-1 in August 1999 in a match from the EURO 2020 qualifiers, 3-0 in March 2005 in a qualifying match from the 2006 World Cup, 3-0 win in November 2010 in a EURO 2012 qualifier and 2-0 in September 2014 in a EURO 2016 qualifier.
Croatia will be all out to claim the three points coupled with a good performance, after losing 1-0 to neighbours Slovenia away from home on Wednesday and beating Cyprus narrowly on Saturday courtesy of a Mario Pašalić goal.
Coach Zlatko Dalić lost the injured Andrej Kramarić of Hoffenheim after AC Milan’s Ante Rebić and Dinamo Zagreb’s Bruno Petković withdrew from the squad before this triple-header.
The players at the disposal of Zlatko Dalić are:
Goalkeepers: Lovre Kalinić (Hajduk), Dominik Livaković (Dinamo), Simon Sluga (Luton Town – ENG)
Defenders: Domagoj Vida (Besiktas – TUR), Dejan Lovren (Zenit – RUS), Šime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid – SPA), Borna Barišić (Glasgow Rangers – SCO), Duje Ćaleta-Car (Olympique Marseille – FRA), Dario Melnjak (Caykur Rizespor – TUR), Filip Uremović (Rubin Kazan – RUS), Josip Juranović (Legia – POL)
Midfielders: Luka Modrić (Real Madrid – SPA), Mateo Kovačić (Chelsea – ENG), Marcelo Brozović (Inter – ITA), Milan Badelj (Genoa – ITA), Mario Pašalić (Atalanta – ITA), Nikola Vlašić (CSKA Moscow – RUS)
Forwards: Ivan Perišić (Inter – ITA), Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg – GER), Mislav Oršić (Dinamo – CRO), Ante Budimir (Osasuna – SPA), Kristijan Lovrić (Gorica).