Pietro Ghedin’s Malta face Southgate’s England side today
● Malta boys eager to cut a good figure at Wembley
When Malta faces England at Wembley this evening (kick off 6pm Malta time), it will be another David v. Goliath affair.
It is tiny Malta against one of the world’s greatest sides – the Masters of the game of football, in fact – even if the Union Jack boys have been passing through a soft patch lately.
Apart from the early elimination from Euro 2016 in France and the slim 1-0 win against Slovakia thanks to a stoppage time goal, the squad also had to face a change of manager just 10 days ago when Sam Allardyce was forced for making unacceptable comments.
His place has been taken ad interim by Gareth Southgate who is now determined to see his boys produce a good performance today to give him the good start he needs in order to be able to claim his permanent place at the helm of the England side later this year.
These are the reasons, perhaps, that are encouraging the Malta boys as they face their more illustrious opponents.
Italian mentor Pietro Ghedin has worked hard with all the players during the past few days to prepare them for this tough test.
And although the players say that this is another qualifier, however, one must admit that England, playing at home, is different from England playing away.
Ghedin must be aware that his team faces long stretches on the defensive as Rooney & Co will be seeking to obtain a good win as a boost for their forthcoming matches and thus also give a boost to their qualification hopes.
Ghedin, however, will have to make some changes to the side that lost heavily (1-5) to Scotland at Ta’ Qali last month. Valletta defender Jonathan Caruana and Luke Gambin are both ruled out through suspension – both saw red against the Scots.
Caruana, however, will be eligible for next Tuesday’s clash against Lithuania in Vilnius. Gambin will miss both matches as he was suspended for two games.
Also missing these matches (at least) is veteran midfielder Roderick Briffa of Valletta, who is facing a long layoff through injury.
I expect Ghedin to start with a very cautious formation today that should include Hibs goalie Andrew Hogg between the posts.
I will not be surprised that he will opt for a five-man defence and a four-man midfield, leaving just one striker – probably Michael Mifsud, up front.
His five men at the back could be Zach Muscat, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius and Alex Muscat while the midfield four could be Gareth Sciberras, Paul Fenech, Bjorn Kristensen (Rowen Muscat) and Clayton Failla.
Around 2,500 Maltese fans are expected to be at Wembley this evening to give their support to the boys in red.
The match is being transmitted live on TVM 2, starting at 6pm.
Andrew Hogg (Hibernians), Henry (Valletta).
Defenders: Andrei Agius (Hibernians), Jonathan Caruana (Valletta), Zach Muscat (Arezzo, Italy), Alex Muscat (Sliema Wanderers), Ryan Camilleri (Valletta), Steve Borg (Valletta), Joseph Zerafa (Birkirkara), Clayton Failla (Hibernians).
Midfielders: Paul Fenech (Balzan), Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians), Bonello Mark Scerri (Sliema Wanderers), Gareth Sciberras (Birkirkara), Rowen Muscat (Birkirkara), Ryan Scicluna (Birkirkara), Steve Pisani (Floriana).
Strikers: Michael Mifsud (Valletta), Jean Paul Farrugia (Sliema Wanderers), Alfred Effiong (Balzan), Andre Schembri (Boavista, Portugal).