Malta coach Ray Farrugia is banking on his team’s collective strength as the national team kicks off a decisive Euro 2020 double header when they host Sweden in a Group F match at the National Stadium this evening (kick-off: 20.45).

While much of the expectations among the Maltese fans is focused on Tuesday’s trip to the Faroe Islands, where the national team could  avoid bottom spot in a qualifying group for the first time in many years, coach Farrugia has made it clear that his primary objective is to ensure that the team puts on a good performance against Sweden.

Video: Jonathan Borg

 “These are two very important matches for us,” Farrugia told a news conference yesterday.

“Sweden are the first opponents and we do not need reminding of the difficult task awaiting us. Everyone remembers clearly the difficulties the team experienced in Solna last June against a very strong team. During this week we worked really hard from a tactical aspect to be prepared for this match and hopefully we can pull off a good performance.

“Obviously, our second match against the Faroe Islands is more important for us as it gives us the opportunity of avoiding bottom spot in the group but at the moment my only focus is on Sweden.”

The Malta coach said that he was disappointed to be without winger Juan Corbalan and Jean Paul Farrugia who were forced to withdraw from the national team earlier this week but was confident he had a competitive squad to do the job in the next five days. 

“I’m disappointed that we lost Corbalan and Jean Paul Farrugia for these matches but life goes on,” Farrugia said.

“As I said many times, Malta does not have any star player in the team, but our main weapon is the collective strength. There is a great atmosphere in the squad at the moment, and all players are well prepared for our upcoming matches.

“The team’s performance against Romania last month was a huge shot in the arm in terms of confidence and I hope now we can build on that. Against the Romanians we managed to play positive football and I hope we do the same against Sweden tomorrow as a positive result will be a huge injection of confidence before Tuesday’s crucial match against the Faroes.”

The Malta coach revealed that he is planning to make good use of all the squad for both matches and hinted that he may leave some of the key players in his team out of today’s match to ensure they will be fresh for the match in Torshavn against the Faroe Islands.

“In Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, we always ended up having to play two matches in the space of only three days and we always made sure that we used some players for one match and others for the second to ensure we have fresh legs,” Farrugia said.

“This time round, making good use of all the squad we have is imperative to reach our objectives. There will be players who will face Sweden who will not be involved against the Faroe Islands as we want to be able to bank on the best-possible team for the match in Torshavn.”

One of the players who is back in the national team for these matches are veteran striker Michael Mifsud who was recalled after missing the double header against Norway and Romania last month.

Mifsud role

Farrugia said that the former Coventry City and Kaiserslautern forward could play a pivotal role for Malta in the coming days.

“People always tend to question Michael Mifsud’s involvement in the national team despite being in his late 30s,” Farrugia said.

“But one has to remember what Michael Mifsud has done for Maltese football throughout all these years and he deserves to be respected. I have no doubt that Michael is still a very important player for the national team and I am sure that he can be a very important player for us for our second match against the Faroe Islands.

“Wouldn’t it be nice for Maltese football if we had to win against the Faroe Islands with Michael Mifsud playing a key role? I think it would be a marvelous occasion.”

Turning his sights back onto tonight’s match against Sweden, Farrugia said that he wants his team to adopt the same positive approach undertaken in Romania last month where they managed to share the exchanges with their opponents and came close to grind out a draw.

“I expect my players to use their performance against Romania and continue to build on it,” Farrugia said.

“One thing that struck me from my players last month was the fact that when we returned to the dressing room after losing the match 1-0 all the players were visibly distraught and disappointed. That shows that our mentality is slowly changing and we are becoming more and more ambitious.

“Against Sweden, I want my team to adopt a positive approach and while it is to be expected that we will have to defend for long spells, we will try and play good positive football when we have the ball in our feet.”

Previous encounters

World Cup
15-10-1972 Sweden vs Malta - 7-0
12-11-1973 Malta vs Sweden - 1-2
23-05-1984 Sweden vs Malta - 4-0
17-11-1985 Malta vs Sweden - 1-2
04-09-2004 Malta vs Sweden - 0-7
04-06-2005 Sweden vs Malta - 6-0
10-06-2009 Sweden vs Malta - 4-0
09-09-2009 Malta vs Sweden - 0-1

European Championship
16-11-1986 Malta vs Sweden - 0-5
24-05-1987 Sweden vs Malta - 1-0
07-06-2019 Sweden vs Malta - 3-0

Friendly
28-02-2001 Malta vs Sweden - 0-3

Malta (probable)
H. Bonello; S. Borg, A. Agius, F. Apap, J. Mbong, J. Zerafa, P. Fenech, R. Muscat, D. Vella, A. Effiong, K. Nwoko.

Referee: Sergei Ivanov (Russia FA).