Malta captain Michael Mifsud has called on his team-mates to put the Norway upset behind them as the national team target an improved display in today’s eagerly-awaited Euro 2016 Group H qualifier against Italy.
“We played against Norway on Friday but that is water under the bridge,” the veteran striker told reporters.
“We met Italy in the last World Cup qualifying edition. In the home match, we did have a couple of scoring opportunities. We played our game and this is what we intend to do tomorrow (today).
“We know it’s a very difficult game but we are looking forward to it. We will surely give our best.”
Mifsud, 33, said, as captain, he has been encouraging his team-mates, especially young players like Zach Muscat, to recover from the disappointment of Friday’s defeat.
“The squad is united,” Mifsud said.
“True, the result against Norway was not what we wanted but we always try to derive positives from every game. We try to learn from our mistakes.
“As far as Zach Muscat is concerned, he has already shown a lot of maturity. I’m always willing to help him and the other players coming through as, when I was younger, I received a lot of assistance from the senior players.”
Having spent 11 years in Italian football, Andrei Agius is relishing the prospect of facing Italy, moreso as he had been left out of the team when Malta lost 2-0 to the Azzurri in March.
Agius, who joined Hibernians in the close season, remarked that, according to reports in Italy, Juventus talisman Andrea Pirlo will not start today.
“If the reports are true and Pirlo doesn’t play, that will remove a big headache for us,” Agius said.
The Hibernians defender, who indicated his readiness to return to Italy if the right offer comes along, dismissed suggestions that the Maltese Premier League is, more or less, on a par with the Lega Pro (third division) in Italy.
“Our Premier League clubs are not professional, so our championship can’t be compared with the Lega Pro,” the 28-year-old said.
“Our clubs are working towards those standards but I must also say that the level of the Lega Pro has gone down in recent years.
“When I started playing in Lega Pro, top players were on high wages. Players were prepared to drop down from the Serie B to play for leading clubs in the Serie C but that is no longer the case.”
Malta found it hard to deal with Norway’s direct football and the physical threat posed by Joshua King, who scored a brace.
Although Italy are significantly stronger than Norway, they play a different game and, judging by their commendable performances in the World Cup qualifiers, Malta play better against teams who have a Latin mentality.
“Every game is different,” Agius said.
“Norway have their characteristics. They played 4-4-2 with two strikers against our three central defenders.
“Under Antonio Conte, Italy play 3-5-2. He has stuck with his methods and ideas, usually opting for two strikers who play close to each other. They exchange passes to try and open up the defence... we have to stay very close to the two strikers.”
Defender Zach Muscat said the players are eager to make up for their poor showing against Norway with a spirited display against Italy.
“We know we made certain mistakes against Norway but we also had some good moments,” the Birkirkara defender said.
“There is a lot of exposure and enthusiasm for the next game. There is also pressure but this is positive. We need to work as a team. We’ve watched the game against Norway and we hope to produce a better performance.”
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