Malta faces Lithuania in Vilnius this evening
After having lost 2-0 to England at Wembley on Saturday, Malta now faces Lithuania in Vilnius this evening.
Last Saturday’s match proved to be an encouraging performance for the Malta boys who must be commended for their gritty showing against one of Europe’s top sides.
It is true that Malta only once threatened to score throughout the 90 minutes, but it is also true that our boys limited the England strikers to a few scoring chances most of which were ably neutralised by superb goalie Andrew Hogg, undoubtedly the best performer for Malta on Saturday.
There were those – including some local colleagues - who criticised the Malta side for not adopting a more attacking attitude. They contend it would have been acceptable to see Malta attacking more frequently though being defeated by a good number of goals.
I cannot accept such statements, firstly because I will be the first to admit that our boys do not (and cannot yet) live in the same streets of the real professionals on the continent. Moreover, our boys would also have been criticised for giving their opponents the chance to give us a hiding from which it would take them a long time to recover.
(After all, what is wrong with a defensive performance. Is not defence a part of the game of football? We have seen top sides in Europe, even recently, adopt such an attitude – Atletico Madrid in the Champions League match against Bayern Munich – so why should we not do it as well? One might argue that Atletico eventually won the match. Of course, they won 1-0 after scoring the only goal from one of their few counter-attacks. And let’s not forget they were playing at home. But the difference between Atletico and Malta is obvious – most, if not all, of Diego Simeone’s squad is top class, while Pietro Ghedin’s squad is based on Maltese players, coming from the lowest tier of European football).
With today’s match just four days after the Wembley encounter, I think it was the only option which national coach Pietro Ghedin had. Let’s face it. Had we lost by a considerable number of goals, our players’ morale for tonight’s match would have been at its lowest ebb. And there is no doubt about that. Therefore Saturday’s result should somehow work in our team’s favour tonight.
In fact, I expect our boys to face another difficult 90 minutes considering that it is another match being played away from home.
Lithuania are coming from a positive result – a 1-1 draw away against Scotland – and that only materialised in the final moments. Until added time in the second half, they were winning 1-0 and they only just failed to beat the Scots.
That shows the quality of their play having obtained two points from two draws in their opening two matches. In their opening match they had drawn 2-2 at home against Slovenia.
For this evening’s clash, Ghedin still has some problems to solve as some players still need to undergo some tests before being certified fit to play after receiving knocks in the England match.
One other thing: Alex Muscat is back home after being granted permission to join his wife following the birth of a baby boy on Saturday.
In all probability, it will be Clayton Failla or Joe Zerafa who will fill the void this evening.
The Italian mentor will certainly be heartened by the fact that Valletta’s central defender Jonathan Caruana will be available after missing the England match through suspension.
I do not expect Ghedin to make any radical changes to the side that faced England, especially if all the players are declared fit to play. But I would expect the coach to include Caruana in his starting line-up, probably taking the place of clubmate Ryan Camilleri.
This could be Ghedin’s probable formation for tonight’s match:
A. Hogg, Z. Muscat, S. Borg, A. Agius, J. Caruana, C. Failla (J. Zerafa); P. Fenech, G. Sciberras, A. Schembri, B. Kristensen, A. Effiong.
The match kicks off at 8.45pm and is being televised live by TVM 2.
Rowen Muscat, Gareth Sciberras and Ryan Camilleri during training
Andrew Hogg during training yesterday Photo: P. Zammit Cutajar/MFA