The Malta national team hosts Greece in a friendly match at the National Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 18:00, as part of the preparations for the difficult European Qualifiers Group 3 campaign which will see Malta facing England, Italy, North Macedonia and Ukraine.
Leading the team for this match will be interim coach Gilbert Agius, who together with assistant coaches Davide Mazzotta and Alessandro Zinnari, have been entrusted with the team’s preparation following the departure of coach Devis Mangia and as the association appoints a new national coach.
Photos courtesy of domenic aquilina / Malta FA
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Agius, who has been part of the Malta FA Technical Centre staff for just over a year and a half after being appointed as coach of the Malta Under-21 national team, said “For me, it is a huge honour to be able to step in and help the technical staff and the players in the preparation for these two games. When the Malta FA asked me to step in, I made myself available in order to contribute towards the national team.”
“I am here because the association wanted stability and continuity on what had been done over the past three years. I have been working within the national teams sector for the past twenty months. I know quite well the idea of a common philosophy throughout the different categories of the national teams and therefore it must have been easy for the association to appoint me in have a smooth transition.”
When asked whether he plans to make changes, Agius said “We all agree that the team made progress over the past three years and during this transition, we will focus on stability and continuity. I believe that for the players and for all, we keep the same ideas, the same philosophy so that the players feel more at ease.”
With regards to the selection of players for these friendly games, Agius said “The Malta FA started a project three years ago which was entrusted to a technical staff who have now been working with the players for the past three years. There is a pool of 40-45 players, including those playing abroad. When making the call-up, you can only choose 27-28 players and therefore some players will be left out for one reason or another. However the doors are open for everyone.”
Floriana forward Kyrian Nwoko and Sliema Wanderers goalkeeper Rashed Al Tumi are back in squad after a long period along with Sutton United’s Luke Gambin, Gudja United’s Karl Micallef, and Hibernians’ duo Kurt Shaw and Dunstan Vella, Hamrun Spartans’ Juan Corbalan and Gzira’s Steven Pisani who have missed some of the last matches.
The squad is made up of :
goalkeepers Henry Bonello (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Jake Galea (Ettelbruck – LUX), Rashed Al Tumi (Sliema Wanderers FC).
defenders Ferdinando Apap (Hibernians FC), Jean Borg (Valletta FC), Steve Borg (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Karl Micallef (Gudja United FC), Kurt Shaw (Hibernians FC), Zach Muscat (Farense – POR), Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara FC).
midfielders Juan Corbalan (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Ryan Camenzuli (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Steven Pisani (Gżira United FC), Matthew Guillaumier (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians FC), Adam Magri Overend (Floriana FC), Brandon Diego Paiber (Valletta FC), Teddy Teuma (R.U. Saint Gilloise – BEL), Dunstan Vella (Hibernians FC).
forwards Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians FC), Shaun Dimech (Valletta FC), Luke Gambin (Sutton United FC – ENG), Jodi Felice Jones (Oxford United FC – ENG), Joseph Essien Mbong (Kiryat Shmona – ISR), Paul Mbong (Birkirkara FC), Luke Montebello (Ħamrun Spartans FC), Kyrian Nwoko (Floriana), Alexander Satariano (Balzan FC).
With regards to the absence of James Brown, Agius said the player had been suffering from an injury which ruled him out of several matches last year. He said that although the injury is not preventing him from playing, he will be taking the opportunity to rest in order to recover fully.
Goalkeeper Henry Bonello added “The atmosphere is serene, the players are united and are looking forward to continue building on what we did against Israel, playing good football. Our objective is to entertain those who come to follow us and support us.”
Malta’s opponents on Thursday, Greece, secured promotion to League B after winning Group C2 which included Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, losing only to neighbours Cyprus in the process.
“Greece are ranked 52nd in the FIFA World Ranking. They are a strong side with a coach which has been appointed last year. They won six games, losing just two. They have a strong defence, conceding very few goals. They play fluent football with several technical players who play in some of the top leagues around Europe. It will be a difficult game which should serve well ahead of the difficult group we will playing in the European Qualifiers against England, Italy, Ukraine and North Macedonia.”
Coach Gus Poyet, former player of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, has selected the following players
goalkeepers Vasilis Barkas (Utrecht), Alexandros Paschalakis (Olympiacos), Giorgos Athanasiadis (AEK Athens);
defenders Giorgos Tzavellas (AEK Athens), Pantelis Chatzidiakos (AZ), Dimitris Giannoulis (Norwich City), Panos Retsos (Olympiacos), Giorgos Kyriakopoulos (Sassuolo), Lazaros Rota (AEK Athens), Dimitris Goutas (Sivasspor), Giannis Kotsiras (Panathinaikos), Dinos Koulierakis (PAOK);
midfielders Petros Mantalos (AEK Athens), Andreas Bouchalakis (Olympiacos), Dimitris Kourbelis (Panathinaikos), Dimitris Pelkas (Hull City), Manolis Siopis (Trabzonspor), Sotiris Alexandropoulos (Sporting CP), Giannis Papanikolaou (Raków Częstochowa);
fowards Tasos Bakasetas (Trabzonspor), Giorgos Masouras (Olympiacos), Tasos Douvikas (Utrecht), Taxiarchis Fountas (D.C. United), Tasos Chatzigiovanis (Ankaragücü), Fotis Ioannidis (Panathinaikos).