Ray Farrugia will be taking charge of the Malta national team for the 12th time when they play hosts to Romania in a Euro 2020 qualifier at the National Stadium, today (kick-off: 20.45).
There may not have been a marked improvement in terms of results, bar the 2-1 win over the Faroe Islands which was the team’s first competitive win on home soil in 13 years, but the Malta coach has kept his word in embarking on a rejuvenation process that so far has propelled several youngsters towards making their senior international debut.
For Farrugia, having injected so many youngsters is of great satisfaction and bodes well for the future where he hopes he can lead the team to much better results.
“I have been in charge of this team for one year now and while I will leave the holistic judgement to the people, I feel that we have made some huge steps forward in terms of our growth,” Farrugia told a news conference yesterday.
“The process we started is a crucial one for Maltese football and I am sure that together with my technical staff, we can continue to improve.
“As I always preach, there will be times where we will suffer but that is international football and our players need to embrace every emotion and challenge on this stage.”
Farrugia said that he is really pleased that his team is becoming eager to face these international matches, which for him is the foundation of a healthy environment in the dressing room while it also helps the young players to integrate as quickly as possible.
Asked whether he had any regrets on his tactical choices against Sweden, Farrugia explained that in his mind that was the best shape to face their Scandinavian opponents at that time.
“I believed that those 11 players that were fielded against Sweden could produce a solid display,” the Malta coach said.
“For example, we played Luke Montebello, giving him a chance at international level while Jake Grech was inserted into a role with which he is familiar in as he often plays there with Hibernians.”
For this first ever match against Romania at senior level, the Malta coach admitted that he may have to effect some changes to his starting formation.
“Most probably there will be several changes, due to fatigue and injuries,” he explained.
“Jonathan Caruana left the camp due to a slip disc while Michael Mifsud has joined us after missing out on the Sweden tie. Steve Borg is receiving treatment on a knock he received on his knee but he should be fine for the game.”
On the other hand, one of the players that has been a regular starter under Farrugia and should be given the nod for tonight’s game is Juan Corbolan, who underlined his happiness in being part of the national team.
“Obviously we are disappointed after the Sweden defeat but given the enthusiasm that there is in our dressing room, I feel we can take something from tomorrow’s game.
“On a personal note, I feel that I am playing some good football but that is all down to the trust that the coach has given me since taking over.”
Keseru main threat
Claudiu Keseru will be Romania’s main threat for the Maltese team as he has already scored five goals in his nation’s three outings in Group F.
His last-gasp equaliser against Norway in Oslo, last Friday, helped Romania pip Malta to third place as they are now on four points, one ahead of Farrugia’s clan.
Coach Cosmin Contra, former Milan and Getafe player, is looking to steer his side towards a crucial win that would keep them in the hunt for a top-two finish.
Contra can also bank on a number of young players who are forging their own careers overseas, in particular forward George Puscas.
The 23-year-old, who has two goals in six caps to his name for Romania, spent the 2018/2019 season at Palermo with whom he played 28 games in the Italian Serie B.
In addition, there is also Ianis Hagi, son of Romanian legend Gheorghe, who is currently at Romania’s Viitorul Constanta after a short stint at Fiorentina.
Unavailable for this game will be defender Dragos Grigore who will serve a one-match ban after being cautioned against Norway.
Malta: H. Bonello; J. Mbong, Z. Muscat, A. Agius, S. Borg, J. Corbalan; R. Muscat, P. Fenech, J. Mintoff; A. Effiong, K. Nwoko.
Romania: A. Tatarusanu; A. Chipchiu, C. Sapunaru, R. Benzar, A. Tosca; P. Antoni, N. Stanciu; C. Deac, C. Keseru, G. Grozav; G. Puscas.
Referee: Dennis Higler (Dutch FA).
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