The Malta women’s national team host Azerbaijan in their final home World Cup qualifier on Friday at the Centenary Stadium, kick-off: 19.30.
It will be Malta’s first international game since the April window when Mark Gatt’s side had put on a strong showing against UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 participants Denmark on home soil.
In the current 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign, Malta has scored four points so far – the highest tally ever in a proper qualification in this competition.
A 2-2 draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina and a 2-1 victory at Azerbaijan away from home were Malta’s best highlights so far. While the team remains on course of registering 10 points in a qualifying campaign for the second time in a row, Malta coach Gatt is wary of the challenges that these two opponents can offer.
Photos: Copyright Mark Zammit Cordina
“These are two games where we can play our preferred style of football,” coach Gatt explained.
“We are striving to add more points to our tally as we believe we can even record victories in this double-header. We have to respect our opponents but I am confident in my team’s ability of staging up two strong performances against both Azerbaijan and Montenegro.”
Since the last international window in which Malta played, there were several moves which involved the national team players especially the foreign-based ones.
While captain Emma Lipman has extended her stay at Como Women, midfielder Rachel Cuschieri moved from Lazio to Sampdoria and registered the winning assist in last weekend’s Serie A opener in the 2-1 win against Sassuolo.
Another player heading to Italy is Maya Lucia, who just recently has been announced as Genoa player, and is part of the senior team having been a key figure in the historic Under-19’s side that won promotion to League A earlier this year.
Moreover, Maria Farrugia swapped Sunderland Ladies for Durham Women with whom she has already played two games in the Barclays Women’s Championship while Haley Bugeja made the move across the Atlantic as she is now part of Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Meanwhile, there is a minor change in the squad as Gillingham Women’s forward Ylenia Carabott has been replaced by Birkirkara’s Raina Giusti.
Giusti scored one of the Stripes’ goals which ensured them the first Maltese victory in a UEFA Women’s Champions League game after beating Glentoran of Northern Ireland 2-1.
In the process, Giusti became the all-time Maltese top scorer for a local club in this competition with three goals in 14 appearances.
She will be joining fellow Birkirkara players in Janice Xuereb, Stephania Farrugia, Charlene Zammit, Ann-Marie Said and Alishia Sultana.
“Obviously, a lot of players had not played since May before the pre-season started,” Gatt explained.
“All players have now started to play with their clubs and some of them, especially the foreign-based, have already played competitive games as well.
At the same time, Birkirkara’s players had a good preparation as well having featured in the UEFA Women’s Championship registering a historic victory which made us proud.”
For coach Gatt, the Azerbaijan game will be significant as this will be his final home game in charge of the senior national team.
Gatt has been part of the ‘A’ team since 2007 when he first took the role of assistant coach under the guidance of Pierre Brincat, now Director of Women’s Football.
After 39 games as right-hand man to coach Brincat, Gatt was appointed in charge of the team in 2015 and has guided the team in 60 matches so far.
Under Gatt, the national team has a solid record of 33 positive results with 81 goals scored. They also finished fourth in a six-team UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 qualifying group with a record of 10 points. A feat that allowed them to win the Malta Sports Journalists’ Association Team of the Year Award.
“My adventure at the helm of the senior national team will come to an end with these two games and I am striving to end on a positive note,” the Malta coach pointed out.
“I will always relish my time in this position, but right now I am focusing on these two games in order to keep developing this national team.”
Ticket prices for Malta vs Azerbaijan are as follows:
- €6 – adults.
- €4 – U-12’s, Over 60 and Concessions.
They can be purchased either online from tickets.mfa.com.mt or from the designated tickets booths at the stadium prior to the start of the match.