Malta faces Lithua­nia in Vil­nius this evening

Malta Independent - - SPORT - Henry Brin­cat

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

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