A new journey beckons for the Malta women’s national team as they will launch their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification campaign with an away trip at Denmark, on Thursday (kick-off: 18.00).
The Denmark test is expected to be tough for the Maltese side but coach Mark Gatt is upbeat on the improvement that the players can make throughout this campaign, starting from this game scheduled at the Viborg Stadium.
“The upcoming season, including this qualification campaign, will be very fundamental for our team in order to improve,” coach Gatt said.
“We will play around 14 games between qualifications and fixtures, and we want to improve on what we have built in recent years throughout the next fixtures.
We set the benchmark high after the previous European qualifications, but repeating the same feat will become even more difficult for us as teams will be more prepared when they face us.”
The women’s team is at the back of a record-breaking UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 qualification campaign after Gatt’s team registered three wins and a draw, tallying 10 points and finishing fourth.
For this qualifier, coach Gatt kept faith with most of the players that played a part in that campaign including the foreign-based players that have already started their club season.
In fact, trio Emma Lipman (Como Women), Martina Borg (Roma Calcio Femminile) and Nicole Sciberras (Tavagnacco) made their Serie B debuts last weekend whereas Rachel Cuschieri has already played three Serie A games with Lazio, including against Inter and Milan.
Forward Maria Farrugia played three games with Sunderland Ladies in the FA Women’s Championship, including against Coventry United at the Stadium of Light and against Crystal Palace at the Selhurst Park.
At domestic level, Birkirkara represented Malta in the UEFA Women’s Champions League as they faced Glasgow City and Slovan Bratislava in the qualifying campaign. The Stripes start favourites to win the Maltese women’s league which is set to start on September.
Forwards Haley Bugeja of Sassuolo and Ylenia Carabott, who last season played in Belgium at RCSC Charleroi, are currently unfit to play and therefore have not been selected for these games.
“One of the main differences between our team and the Denmark players is the fact that the Danish players have already started their club season whereas our domestic league is yet to start,” the Malta coach explained.
“Nonetheless, this is the start-up of a long journey in these qualifications so we try to make the most of our time together in order to analyse our team, review our opponents and continue to improve our playing style.”
During the previous qualifiers, the Maltese team faced Denmark with the Nordic side winning both rounds en route to their qualification to England 2022.
“Denmark is a very experienced team and was one of the strongest teams in Pot 1 heading into these qualifiers,” Gatt explained.
“We reserve a lot of respect towards them but at the same time we are relishing the chance to face this team because these games help us gain more experience at this level.”
One of world’s best
Denmark will be one of the teams that will feature in next summer’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 and are considered as one of the favourites to challenge for this crown.
They pitted Italy to top the European qualifiers, redeeming themselves after failing to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Captain Pernille Harder, considered as one of the best players in European football, was subject to the highest transfer fee in women’s football when she joined Chelsea from Wolfsburg before the 2020/2021 season.
The team includes several other notable players such as Sofie Junge Pedersen of Juventus, Sarah Thrige of Milan and Signe Bruun of Olympique Lyon.
They start as favourites to book a place in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, with Russia, Montenegro and Azerbaijan being the other teams in this group.
Patricia Ebejer (Mġarr United); Janice Xuereb (Birkirkara).
Alexandra Gatt, Maia Debono (both Mġarr United); Jessica Dimech, Jade Flask (both Swieqi United); Stephania Farrugia, Gabriella Zahra, Charlene Zammit (all Birkirkara); Nicole Sciberras (Tavagnacco, Italy).
Brenda Borg (Mġarr United); Kayleigh Chetcuti, Dorianne Theuma, Shona Zammit (all Swieqi United); Rachel Cuschieri (Lazio, Italy); Emma Lipman (Como Women); Ann-Marie Said, Alishia Sultana (both Birkirkara)
Martina Borg (Roma Calcio Femminile, Italy), Maria Farrugia (Sunderland Ladies, England)