Malta faces a difficult test on Saturday as Michele Marcolini’s side take on Italy at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari on Saturday in another match from the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2024.
Facing the European champions is always a difficult task but this was made harder due to the absence of three players who feature regularly for the team. Captain Steve Borg is ruled out through suspension while Jodi Jones and Teddy Teuma are ruled out injured.
Addressing the media on Friday, Marcolini said that is was clear that they were facing a challenging situation due to the absence of the three players but he praised his players for their dedication and attitude, even in training, and is happy with their commitment.
Italy also had their fair share of troubled situations after Sandro Tonali and Nicolò Zaniolo were dropped from the squad following investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office over illegal betting. However, Marcolini believes that despite the challenges faced by the Italian national team, the Italian spirit and attitude will help them emerge stronger.
Marcolini had played for Bari for four years, scoring his first Serie A goal. He said he fondly remembers the club and its role in his career and personal development.
Photos courtesy of domenic aquilina
Meanwhile Birkirkara defender Enrico Pepe acknowledged the significance of playing against Italy, expressing that it is a significant event for any footballer. He recognized the stature of the Italian national team in the world of football. Pepe added that mentioned that the team has prepared extensively for this game. Pepe stressed the importance of giving the hundred percent in football and noted that in doing so, anything can happen.
Enrico Pepe expressed his pride in representing the Maltese national team, emphasizing that when he wears the national jersey, he does so with great pride. He explained that he is deeply connected to the island, saying him that it has given a lot, and is committed to making the supporters proud.
With Borg, Teuma and Jones ruled out, Marcolini is forced to make at least three changes from the team which lost 0-2 to North Macedonia at Ta’ Qali last month.
The full squad at the disposal of the Malta coach is made up of:
Goalkeepers Henry Bonello (Hamrun Spartans FC), Rashed Al Tumi (Sliema Wanderers FC), Jake Galea (Valletta FC)
Defenders Ferdinando Apap (Hibernians FC), Zach Muscat (Farense – POR), Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara FC), Kurt Shaw (Hibernians FC), Jean Borg (Sliema Wanderers FC)
Midfielders Juan Corbalan (Hamrun Spartans FC), Cain Attard (CF Os Belenenses – POR), Ryan Camenzuli (Hamrun Spartans FC), Adam Magri Overend (Floriana FC), Steven Pisani (Santa Lucia FC), Matthew Guillaumier (FKS Stal Mielec Spolka Akcyjna – POL), Nikolai Muscat (Marsaxlokk FC), Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians FC), Brandon Diego Paiber (Valletta FC), Yannick Yankam (Birkirkara FC), Joseph Essien Mbong (Hamrun Spartans FC), Dunstan Vella (Floriana FC)
Forwards Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians FC), Kyrian Nwoko (Floriana FC), Paul Mbong (Birkirkara FC), Luke Montebello (Hamrun Spartans), Alexander Satariano (Birkirkara FC)
Italy currently share second place in the group with Ukraine and North Macedonia on seven points, six behind England but Italy have a game in hand.
They lost 1-2 to England at home but then defeated Malta 2-0 at Ta’ Qali in March. In September, they earned four points in a 1-1 draw with North Macedonia in Skopje and defeated Ukraine 2-1 at home.
When new Italian Head Coach Luciano Spalletti, named the squad, he included Destiny Udogie, who had previously taken part in special training camps for players of interest for the First Team, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Moise Kean were back after a relatively long absence.
The squad is made up of:
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Alex Meret (Napoli), Ivan Provedel (Lazio), Guglielmo Vicario (Tottenham);
Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Inter), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Matteo Darmian (Inter), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Federico Dimarco (Inter), Federico Gatti (Juventus), Gianluca Mancini (Roma), Giorgio Scalvini (Atalanta), Destiny Udogie (Tottenham);
Midfielders: Nicolò Barella (Inter), Giacomo Bonaventura (Fiorentina), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Davide Frattesi (Inter), Manuel Locatelli (Juventus);
Forwards: Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Moise Kean (Juventus), Giacomo Raspadori (Napoli), Gianluca Scamacca (Atalanta), Mattia Zaccagni (Lazio).
This will be the fifth clash between Italy and Malta on Italian soil. In January 1987, Italy defeated Malta 5-0 in Bergamo and six years later, in March 1993, Italy registered a 6-1 win in Palermo. In September 2012, Italy won 2-0 in Modena while in September 2015, Italy won 1-0 in Firenze. Overall, Italy won the nine matches played against Malta.
Italy vs Malta will be controlled by Croatian referee Duje Strukan, assisted by assistant referees Bojan Zobenica and Alen Jakšić, fourth official Fran Jović, Video Assistant Referee Ivan Bebek and Assistant Video Assistant Referee Mario Zebec.