Marcolini hopes Malta could be a threat for strong England side

Coach Michele Marcolini hopes Malta would make life difficult for England as the boys in red host Gareth Southgate’s side in another match from Group C of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2024 at the National Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 20:45.

So far, Malta played two matches in Group C, losing 2-1 to North Macedonia in Skopje and 0-2 to Italy at Ta’ Qali. In view of Friday’s game against England and Monday’s clash with Ukraine in Trnava, Slovakia, Malta played a friendly match against Luxembourg on Friday, winning 1-0 away from home courtesy of substitute Kyrian Nwoko on the 64th minute. The first win for Malta since the appointment of Michele Marcolini as Malta national teams head coach.

“We won a difficult game against a very good team because in the last couple of years, Luxembourg improved a lot They had a very good UEFA Nations League campaign. I am very proud of players, not only because of the result – because football is not only the result – but for the attitude and behaviour. In the line-up, I included some players who for some time had not played or never played for the national team because they deserved it. I want to understand how these players could help our development project,” said Marcolini

These games arrive after a long football season. Local players played their last league games in April. On the other hand, the Premier League campaign in England ended three weeks ago while Manchester City players were involved in last Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final.

“It is the end of the season for us and after six weeks without an official match, My players are tired as well as the England players but the difference is that we stopped for a long time with playing an official match. If you have to play, it is better to continue playing rather than stop and restart and just do training sessions and without an official match. However we not have to think about that but on doing our best on the pitch. We prepared this match, hoping to be a threat as much as possible for England.”

Photos below courtesy of domenic aquilina

“England are in a better situation because we had the opposite problem. We started training on the 8th May after only two weeks of rest for the players. It is a weird period. The league finished in the end of April and therefore, we had to wait several weeks before these three international matches. It would have been much better if my players had to the opportunity play more official games but at the same time, this is why I am so proud of my players who gave their hundred per cent during this training camp. They deserved the victory against Luxembourg. It was a very touch match since a long time had passed since they played an official match. Despite this long period without matches, we played a very good match and now we are ready to play England in best physical and mental condition.”

Marcolini is fully aware of the strength of the England side who claimed maximum points from the first two matches, including a win over Italy, away from home.

“We will play against one of the top four, five teams in the world. They have talent, strength and speed – all it takes to be protagonists. But we have to enjoy playing this kind of match, giving our best and without thinking about how strong England are.”

“England showed their strength against Italy. They won over there. It is never easy to win against Italy, especially away from home. They had an amazing first half, showing their strength and creating several scoring opportunities. At the moment, this is therefore the toughest match in the group. But we have to play and enjoy it as much as possible.”

“In this last year, Malta showed a lot of improvement and the last results prove that. Still, tomorrow it will be very, very tough for us. However we have only to think about giving our best on the pitch, play for each other and try to be as brave as possible. Then, at the end, we need some luck as on paper, we are underdogs. But at the same time, football is a beautiful game as sometimes, small teams are a threat for others. For us, it will be very difficult, as it was the case against Italy, but we will give our best and we will see what happens on the pitch. “

“Tomorrow will be amazing. I would really love to play myself. This is the kind of match a player dreams about. Playing one of the top teams in the world, facing amazing players, like Harry Kane, who I believe is absolutely one of the best strikers in the world. Having the backing of a sold-out stadium is another reason to give our best and make them proud.”

Goalkeeper Henry Bonello said that the team was fully focussed on Friday’s game.

“We all know England are a very good team. We are the underdogs but we will try to play our game
Be brave with the ball and try to get the chance to score. There is nothing more to do other than doing your best and trying to enjoy it. Nothing more nothing less.”

The England squad boasts of several world-class players but Bonello insisted that he thinks and focuses only on what he has to do.

With regards to the players’ condition, Michele Marcolini said that Teddy Teuma, who sustained an injury in the final league game for Union Saint-Gilloise and missed the friendly match against Luxembourg, is getting better and on Wednesday, did the first complete training session. The Malta coach said he will be assessing Teuma’s condition in the final training session before deciding whether to include him in the starting line-up.

However, the Malta coach would not reveal whether he would make several changes from the team which defeated Luxembourg.

“We are preparing this match in the same way as in the previous games. We are building a strong cohesive group because I put a lot of emphasis on the group,” said Marcolini.

Henry Bonello should start in goal with Ferdinando Apap, Steve Borg and Zach Muscat at the back, Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli on the flanks, Matthew Guillaumier, Teddy Teuma and Yannick Yankam in midfield with Jodi Jones supporting Kyrian Nwoko or Alex Satariano in attack.

The players at the disposal of Marcolini are:

Henry Bonello (Hamrun Spartans FC), Matthias Debono (Hamrun Spartans FC), Matthew Grech (Sirens FC)

Ferdinando Apap (Hibernians FC), Jean Borg (Fidelis Andria – ITA), Steve Borg (Hamrun Spartans FC), Karl Micallef (Gudja United FC), Zach Muscat (Farense – POR), Kurt Shaw (Hibernians FC)

Cain Attard (Birkirkara FC), Juan Corbalan (Hamrun Spartans FC), Ryan Camenzuli (Hamrun Spartans FC), Jake Grech (Hibernians FC), Matthew Guillaumier (Hamrun Spartans FC), Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians FC), Adam Magri Overend (Floriana FC), Joseph Essien Mbong (Hamrun Spartans FC), Nikolai Muscat (Gzira FC), Steven Pisani (Gzira United FC), Yannick Yankam (Birkirkara FC)

Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians FC), Jodi Felice Jones (Notts County – ENG), Shaun Dimech (Valletta FC), Kyrian Nwoko (Santa Lucia FC), Alexander Satariano (Balzan FC), Luke Montebello (Hamrun Spartans) 

Friday’s game is the fourth clash between Malta and England on home soil. England had registered a narrow 1-0 win at The Stadium in February 1971in a EURO ’72 qualifier. England defeated Malta 2-1 in a friendly match in June 2000 while in September 2017, England defeated Malta 4-0 in a 2018 World Cup qualifier.

Malta vs England will be controlled by Croatian officials, namely referee Igor Pajac who will be assisted by asssistant referees Goran Pataki and Ivan Mihalj, fourth official Patrik Kolarić, Video Assistant Referee Duje Strukan and Assistant Video Assistant Referee Fran Jović.