The Malta women’s national team will wrap up its second international window of this 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign when they cross swords with Azerbaijan at the ASK Arena in Baku, on Tuesday, kick-off at 16:00 CET.
Led by coach Mark Gatt, the Maltese side is at the back of a 3-0 defeat against 24th-ranked Russia in Khimki.
“We took some time to settle down but afterwards, I feel that we were tactically disciplined on the field,” Gatt explained. “Against such teams, you are condemned as soon as you make the slightest of mistakes but it does not mean that it can happen against other teams, like Azerbaijan. However, managing to stay organised and compact against those kind of teams means that we are progressing in our development.”
This will be Malta’s second ever encounter with Azerbaijan. The only meeting between these two teams dates back to 2015 when Gatt took charge of the Malta women’s national team for the first time in a friendly tournament in Cyprus. On that day, Dorianne Theuma and Ylenia Carabott’s goals had propelled Malta to a 2-1 victory.
Since then, both nations continued to make improvements in the women’s game with Malta collecting 10 points in the recent European championship qualifications whereas Azerbaijan sit 78th in the FIFA Rankings, 15 places above Malta.
This underlines the challenge that the Maltese team is expecting when they set foot on ASK Arena, home of Kesla who faced Balzan in a UEFA Europa League qualifier in 2019. For the record, Balzan did manage to qualify 5-3 on aggregate back then.
“We can never underestimate our opponents,” Gatt underlined.
“It is important that we stay disciplined and capitalise on our chances but most of all, it will be important to remain patient – patience is key in this game.”
Following the heavy defeat against Denmark, who in the meantime followed with two 8-0 victories over Azerbaijan and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Malta scored a historic point against Bosnia-Herzegovina before staging up a solid showing against Russia.
The expectations for Malta against Azerbaijan will once again be to improve on the previous performances with an eye on potential points that would continue to help this team grow and become more competitive in this qualification campaign.
“I cannot expect more from my players and staff as the approach for our games is always of a professional level and the results reflect our preparations on the field,” the Malta coach said.
“Obviously, there are some expectations for this game as we are working to register a positive so we feel a bit pressure but at the same time I am confident that we can thrive under these circumstances.”
Azerbaijan, on their part, have lost all three games so far against Russia (2-0), Denmark and Montenegro (2-0). Despite still looking for their first goal and first points, Azerbaijan’s squad is composed of a number of players who play in the top-tiers of Russia and Turkey.
Several members of the Azeri side were part of the U-19’s selection that had faced the Maltese senior national team in a friendly back in 2015, which ended in a goalless stalemate at the Centenary Stadium.