Malta faces tough Italy task on Sunday

After losing 2-1 to North Macedonia in Skopje on Thursday, Malta hosts Italy in another match from Group C of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2024 at the National Stadium on Sunday, kick-off at 20:45.

Like Malta, Italy played their first game on Thursday, losing 1-2 to England at the Stadio Diego Maradona in Naples. Roberto Mancini’s side struggled in the first half but played quite well after the break.

Malta national teams head coach Michele Marcolini is well aware of how difficult this game will be for his side.

“It is difficult to compare the way Italy played against England with the game they will play against us tomorrow. They are two completely different games. I am sure they would risk more than they did against England, I am therefore expecting a different Italy side. Apart from that, although they were beaten in their last outing, Italy is still one of the strongest teams in the world, even though they are not going through a particularly positive period. However, for us, it is still another mountain to climb.”

Photos courtesy of domenic aquilina

Malta and Hamrun Spartans midfielder Matthew Guillaumier added “We know that this will be a very difficult game for us against very strong players. We know that we have to fight for every ball and continue where we have left in the game against Macedonia, playing with the same attitude and do our best to make life difficult for our opponents.”

The Malta coach is sure Italy will take the game against Malta lightly even if whenever Italy played Malta at Ta’ Qali, they always emerged as winners but only by a two or a one-goal difference – winning 2-0 in 1986 and 2013, 2-1 in 1992 and 1-0 in 2014.

“The risk for teams like Italy when facing teams similar to Malta is that sometimes they take the game lightly. However, I believe that there is no such risk now since they are coming from this defeat to England, there is the need rather than the will to bounce back strongly.”

“It is true that sometimes, Italy takes such games lightly but tomorrow, this will definitely not be the case, also considering the fact that under Mancini, Italy has always played constructive football focussed on the attack and therefore we need to be smart enough to close the spaces and make sure that the game remains balanced as much as possible.”

Michele Marcolini admitted that most probably, Malta will have to defend and will focus mainly on closing the spaces.

“My plan will not be to ‘park the bus’ but it will mostly depend on the attitude of our opponents. When you play against a team which is much stronger than you, on paper, it is normal that you will have to close the spaces and defend a bit but this will not mean that we will not try to play our game. Even in Macedonia, we also tried to play our game … being careful at the back but at the same, trying to take our opportunities.”

“I believe that in Macedonia, we played a good game. What made the whole difference were the two masterstrokes of Elmas and Churlinov, especially the latter’s inclusion which was the turning point of the game. However, our reaction was something I was really proud of and happy about. Despite conceding two goals in a few minutes, we did not give up and reacted well. In fact, in the final minutes, our opponents were more concerned in clearing the ball into safety rather than trying to create something.”

Photos courtesy of domenic aquilina

In Skopje, Marcolini opted to a 3-4-1-2 formation which was quite similar to the formation usually 3-4-2-1 formation usually adopted by his predecessor Devis Mangia.

“With regards to tactics, I don’t think I will make changes. I have been here for only a short period of time and am quite lucky that ahead of the international break, the league stops a week earlier and therefore have more time with my players.”

“I still need to see the players in the final training session and tomorrow morning to identify which players are less tired than others. All players are eager to play tomorrow. I plan to change something but will definitely not make wholesale changes.”

“There are no injuries and the boys are trying to recover in the best way possible. The players spent a lot of energy in Macedonia but luckily there are no injury problems,” said Marcolini.

Henry Bonello will therefore start in goal with Ferdinando Apap, Steve Borg and Cain Attard at the back or with either James Brown or Zach Muscat replacing one of the back three, Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli should be retained on the flanks with Brandon Paiber possibly joining Matthew Guillaumier in midfield. Teddy Teuma takes once again the role of attacking midfielder, supporting the two strikers. Jodi Jones could be named in the starting line-up, replacing Alexander Satariano or Paul Mbong.

Malta vs Italy will be controlled by referee Georgi Kabakov from Bulgaria, assisted by Martin Margaritov and Diyan Valkov as assistant referees, fourth official Nikola Popov, VAR Christian Dingert from Germany and Assistant VAR Dragomir Draganov.