Malta plays the seventh match from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosting Slovenia at the National Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 20:45.
However James Brown who received his first national call-up ahead of this double header, which includes the away match against Cyprus on Monday, is ruled out after failing to recover from a hamstring injury while playing for Scottish Premiership side St. Johnstone.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Malta head coach Devis Mangia confirmed that Brown would not be available for these two matches.
“James Brown will be out because he is not OK. He had an injury. We tried everything possible for him to recover but the situation is still a bit risky and the player is not so confident. So he will be out for this game and for the next one.”
“The other players are all available for this game, except for Ryan Camenzuli who is suspended.”
“All the players are important and we do not depend on one player or another. We have good players who will play tomorrow who I am sure that can do their best and do a very good performance. The result of a match depends on a lot of factors as, for example, we saw in the match in Ljubljana.”
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina / Malta FA
For this game, Mangia could count once again Jurgen Degabriele of Hibernians FC who returns to the national team after having recovered from an injury along with Samir Arab of Balzan FC while Adam Magri Overend of Floriana received his first senior national team call-up.
Luke Gambin, who had missed the game against Cyprus, is part of the squad whilst Enrico Pepe who missed the Russia game as he was injured is now available.
However absent from the squad, apart from Ryan Camenzuli are Juan Corbalan and Matthew Guillaumier who are both injured along with Andrei Agius and Bjorn Kristensen among others.
Malta lost narrowly to Slovenia in Ljubljana last month, conceding a goal from a penalty just before the end of the first half. However Mangia is cautious, saying that although the game will be another difficult one, he was sure the team will do its best to perform well.
“Slovenia is a very good team. They have players of a high level and who play in the big leagues. So they are a very good team. Maybe in the first game, this difference was not so evident because we played a very good game …. we had a very good performance. To create opportunities, we need to have a very good performance.”
Slovenia welcomes back Atalanta forward Josip llicic who played for Palermo when Mangia served as coach of the Sicilian side in the Serie A in the early part of season 2011/12.
“I have great consideration for Josip because I know him well and I know the skills he has. He is definitely a player who can make the difference but Slovenia, in my opinion, is a team which has a good number of very good players. But this will not change our philosophy, our idea to go on the pitch and try to play our game, following our plan and our idea of football. This will always be our target.”
“I will focus on the performance and hope we will be able to do another step following the good performance in September. I speak only on the performance because I will never put pressure … we have to be focussed on the performance of the team.”
Asked whether Malta stands a good opportunity to achieve a positive result from this game, Mangia said “We always go on the pitch to win points and win the game. This is our philosophy. But one thing is to go on the pitch, do our best and try to win or gain points …. another is to go on the pitch and be sure to win the game. This would be a mistake in my opinion. We can do a good performance if we are focussed and give our hundred percent, play our football and respect our opponent.”
Mangia added that he wants to avoid putting pressure on the players.
“I do not want to put any kind of pressure and that no one puts pressure on the players for a result. It is not the right moment. This is the moment to create something, build something and not put pressure.”
Steve Pisani said the team was well-prepared fully focussed on this game and only after the Slovenia game, will turn their focus on the trip to Cyprus. He said the team’s strength was the group of players and that all the players were united.
Malta is currently fifth in Group H with four points from six matches after obtaining a 2-2 draw away from home against Slovakia in March and an impressive 3-0 win over Cyprus last month. The performances in the other four matches were good, in particular, the last two outings against Slovenia and Russia.
In their last outing, Slovenia lost 3-0 to neighbours Croatia in Split. They have collected seven points so far after defeating Croatia 1-0 at home, lost 2-1 to Russia and 1-0 to Cyprus away from home, drew 1-1 with Slovakia at home before the narrow win over Malta and the defeat to Croatia.
In four matches against Slovenia on home soil, Malta obtained a 0-0 draw in a match from the Malta International Tournament in 1996. The other three matches ended in defeats – 0-1 in the Rothmans Tournament in 1994, 1-3 in April 2003 in the EURO 2004 qualifiers and 0-1 in November 2016 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
The match will be controlled by Greek officials, namely referee Tasos Sidiropoulos, Assistant referees Polychronis Kostaras and Lazaros Dimitriadis, Video Assistant Referee Ioannis Papadopoulos, Assistant Video Assistant Referee Agelos Evangelou and fourth official Anastasios Papapetrou.