The Malta women’s national team is set to resume its 2023 World Cup qualifications when they cross swords with 24th-ranked Russia at the Arena Khimki, on Thursday, kick-off at 16:00 CET.
Led by coach Mark Gatt, the Maltese women are in high spirits after their Bosnia-Herzegovina fightback which earned them a 2-2 draw and their first ever point in the main round of a Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
Just like in the previous international window when they met Denmark, Malta will face a Women’s Euro 2022 participant in Russia and once again coach Gatt is expecting a stern test against one of the best teams in European football.
At the same time, this will be a new matchup for the Maltese side as this will be the first ever meeting between Russia and Malta in women’s football.
“Russia is a team ranked in the higher places in the FIFA rankings and has qualified to the upcoming European championships,” Gatt said.
“They will face us, Montenegro and Azerbaijan before meeting fellow group favourites Denmark so they will aim to gain maximum points before meeting the Danes.
Nonetheless, we are working to strike a balance in our style of play, especially going forward as we are targeting goals against these kind of teams.
Although Russia will be a new opponent for Malta on the field, coach Gatt and his staff have already discovered the important details about Thursday’s rivals through their pre-game preparations.
“Tactically, we are already anticipating what we are going to encounter on the field,” the Malta coach explained.
“That is why I am convinced that the players will rise to the occasion and make life difficult to the opponents as we all want to stage a positive performance.”
The Maltese contingent arrived in Russia on a Monday and conducted their first training session on Tuesday.
“We arrived on Monday and that is a positive for us as it give us an extra day to familiarise ourselves with the environment,” Gatt underlined.
“At the same time, gathering with the team for over a week is a further positive thing for us as it gives continuity from the previous international windows.”
Asked about the mood of the team, Gatt explained how he is pleased with the commitment of the players and that they are pushing each other during training, motivating his staff as well to keep working in the best possible way and maintain the competitiveness in the team.
Russia eyeing rare World Cup
Russia are one of the teams who have been constantly growing in the women’s game in recent years. They have participated in five of the last six editions of the European championships even though they have always find it difficult to advance from the group stages.
Qualifying to the 2023 World Cup would cement their creditable status among the women’s game’s elite teams, in particular since the last time they qualified to this tournament was back in 2003 when they reached the quarter-finals.
Large part of the Russian squad is composed by players of Lokomotiv Moscow, who have embarked in the women’s game and have conquered the domestic treble this season – Russian Super Cup, Russian cup and Russian league.
Moreover, they have also Nadezhda Smirnova who last weekend became the first player to play 100 games for CSKA Moscow’s women’s team.
In their opening two games of the World Cup qualifiers, Russia beat Azerbaijan 2-0 before easing past Montenegro 5-0.