Malta hosts Slovenia in friendly match on Thursday

Malta hosts Slovenia at the National Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 19:00, in the first of two friendly matches in this March international window as part of the preparation for the UEFA Nations League commitments later this year where Michele Marcolini’s side will be facing Moldova and Andorra in Group D2.

This will be the first test for Malta in 2023 following a calendar year, 2022, during which Malta failed to win any points from Group C which included England, Italy, Ukraine and North Macedonia. The only positive results obtained were in two friendly matches against Luxembourg away from home and Gibraltar at Ta’ Qali. With qualification for League C of the UEFA Nations League being a major objective for the Malta FA, this friendly game against Slovenia paves the way for the team’s preparation which includes a friendly match against Belarus on Tuesday and another two friendly matches in June, probably in Austria.

Unlike recent international windows, players joined the squad only three days before this first game and therefore they had limited chances to prepare for these matches.

Addressing the media on Wednesday, Marcolini said “It has been a long time since we met. It’s almost four months since we have been to train together as a squad. Unfortunately we had just three days to prepare for this tough match. But I am very happy with what the players showed me, their attitude was amazing, they are focussed and so I am very happy about that.

“It is normal that in some friendly match, I would like to prepare something different than usual but we do not have enough time because in three days you cannot change a lot of things. However, these matches could be ideal to watch some players who were less involved in the first eleven, maybe others who were never involved and some players that played less than others. I would like to give this opportunity to more players than usual, if not all, to show their skills because after all, we have only four matches before the Nations League and we have to prepare everything in these tests because we do not know what will happen in the beginning of next season.”

When asked whether there could be more opportunities of short training camps in between the international windows, Marcolini said “Every coach would like to have the opportunity to work daily with his players but I am a coach of a national team and I know that to train my players during the international windows. This is the calendar, this is how we have to work without thinking differently because this is the life of a national team.”

Malta will be without Jodi Jones and the injured Teddy Teuma and Ryan Camenzuli for these matches. On the other hand, Floriana’s Carlo Zammit Lonardelli has earned his first-ever call-up to the senior national team while Jan Busuttil, Dunstan Vella and Nevin Portelli are back in the squad.  

“Together with the technical staff, we scout 90-95% of Premier League matches and so we are here to understand whether players are in shape or not. I cannot only watch only their performance on the pitch and so it is normal to see their performance with the national team. In this call-up, Teddy and Jodi are missing for different reasons. Teddy was injured and we tried to see whether he could play at least for the second match but unfortunately, he had a calf problem and we cannot risk. Jodi asked to remain with his wife who is pregnant. To build a group, such considerations are important. We are professionals and players are professional but above all, we are human beings and it is of utmost importance to take part of this aspect of players.”

“I chose to call Zammit Lonardelli and Portelli as new players because Zammit Lonardelli is playing regularly and is doing a very good job with Floriana while Portelli is back after his Italian experience and since then he scored twice and did some good assists and I wanted to give him the chance to show me the skills and see whether he could be able to help us in the future. The door of the national team is always open for those who show they deserve it. “

The squad is in fact made up of:

Rashed Al Tumi (Sliema Wanderers FC), Henry Bonello (Hamrun Spartans FC), Matthew Grech (Zabbar St Patrick’s FC)

Ferdinando Apap (Hibernians FC), Jean Borg (Sliema Wanderers FC), Steve Borg (Hamrun Spartans FC), Zach Muscat (Farense – POR), Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara FC), Kurt Shaw (Hibernians FC) 

Cain Attard (CF Os Belenenses – POR), Myles Beerman (Sliema Wanderers FC), Jan Busuttil (Balzan FC), Juan Corbalan (Hamrun Spartans FC), Matthew Guillaumier (FKS Stal Mielec Spolka Akcyjna – POL), Joseph Essien Mbong (Hamrun Spartans FC), Nikolai Muscat (Marsaxlokk FC), Brandon Diego Paiber (Valletta FC), Steven Pisani (Santa Lucia FC), Dunstan Vella (Floriana FC), Yannick Yankam (Lexington SC – USA), Carlo Zammit Lonardelli (Floriana FC)

Paul Mbong (Birkirkara FC), Luke Montebello (Hamrun Spartans), Kyrian Nwoko (Floriana FC), Nevin Portelli (Marsaxlokk FC), Kemar Reid (Floriana FC)

BOV Premier League top scorer Luke Montebello said that although he is having a good season at Hamrun Spartans, he is now fully focussed on these friendly matches against Slovenia and Belarus, adding that a player should always be proud to form part of the national team and it is always something he would look forward to.

Malta and Slovenia met eight times with the latter emerging as winners seven times, except for a goalless draw in 1996. The first two encounters formed part of the Malta International Tournament. Slovenia beat Malta 1-0 in February 1994 and two years later, Malta had earned a point in a goalless draw. The two teams met in the EURO 2004 qualifiers with Slovenia winning 3-0 in Ljubljana in September 2002 and 3-1 at Ta’ Qali in April 2003. In November 2016, Malta and Slovenia met in the World Cup qualifiers with the latter winning 1-0 at Ta’ Qali. In June 2017, Slovenia registered a 2-0 win in Ljubljana. More recently, in another two World Cup qualifiers, Slovenia registered a narrow 1-0 win over Malta in Ljubljana in September 2021 but one month later, defeated Malta 4-0 at Ta’ Qali.

For this game, Matjaz Kek named a strong squad which include top players like Jan Oblak and Benjamin Sesko.

The squad, including several foreign-based players, is made up of:

Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid, Spain); Vid Belec (APOEL, Cyprus); Igor Vekic (Vejle, Denmark).

Peter Stojanovic (Sampdoria, Italy); Jaka Bijol (Udinese, Italy); Jure Balkovec (Alanyaspor, Turkiye); Miha Blazic (Lech Poznan, Poland); Zan Karnicnik (Cejle); David Brekalo (Orlando City, USA); Vanja Drkusic (Sochi, Russia).

Jasmin Kurtic (Sudtirol, Italy); Benjamin Verbic (Panathinaikos, Greece); Sandi Lovric (Udinese, Italy); Adam Cerin (Panathinaikos, Greece); Jon Stankovic (Sturm Graz, Austria); Timi Elsnik (Olimpija Ljubljana); Tomi Horvat (Sturm Graz, Austria); Nino Zugelj (Bodo Glimt, Norway).

Andraz Sporar (Panathinaikos, Greece); Benjamin Sesko (RB Leipzig, Germany); Jan Mlakar (Pisa, Italy); Zan Celar (Lugano, Switzerland); Zan Vipotnik (Bordeaux, France).

In the recent EURO 2024 qualifiers, Slovenia finished on level points with Denmark in Group H but had to settle for second place due to the direct encounters. They won seven matches and drew once, losing only to Finland and Denmark away from home. The other teams in the group included Northern Ireland, Kazakhstan and San Marino. Earlier this year, they played a friendly match against the United States, winning 1-0 in San Antonio, USA. They are expected to play three more friendly matches against Portugal, Armenia and Bulgaria ahead of the EURO where they would be facing Denmark, Serbia and England in Group C.