Malta coach Ray Farrugia has urged his players to continue playing positive football as the national team take on group leaders Kosovo in their UEFA Nations League match at the National Stadium on Saturday (kick-off: 6pm).
With two wins and two draws from their opening four matches, Kosovo have confirmed early predictions of being the strongest side in the division as they are leading the way on eight points, two clear of Azerbaijan, who they face in their final match in Pristina on Tuesday.
On the other hand, Malta are still in search of their first win in the competition after picking up two draws from their opening four outings and desperately need a positive result from today’s match to keep alive their hopes avoiding bottom place in the group.
Malta coach Farrugia has first-hand experience on the strength posed by Kosovo after seeing his players struggle to contain the pace and power of the former Yugoslavia Republic players who cantered home to a comfortable 3-1 win in Pristina last month.
“We’re playing against a very strong side who unsurprisingly are top of the group and will surely provide us with a very difficult challenge,” coach Farrugia told a news conference on Friday.
“However, in the last few months the team has developed a lot in terms of performance.
“If you look at our last outing against Azerbaijan, the players produced a great response to our defeat in Kosovo and managed to return home with a merited point.
“For the match against Kosovo, the players are very well prepared with a good game plan and we are optimistic of getting a positive result.”
Farrugia cannot field his strongest formation this evening as defensive duo Steve Borg and Andrei Agius are ruled out with a one-match ban.
Zach Muscat, who missed the matches against Kosovo and Azerbaijan through injury, and Jonathan Caruana, back in the national team fold after serving a doping suspension, are set to start in defence.
Luke Gambin, who is on the books of English side Crawley Town, is set to make his first appearance in the UEFA Nations League as Farrugia confirmed that he will be included in the starting formation.
“The absence of Steve Borg and Andrei Agius is a blow for us as they have been regular members in the team,” Farrugia said.
“But I have great faith in all the players in our squad who are well acquainted with the playing system we are trying to adopt.
“One of the biggest positives for me so far has been the way the young members in the squad have managed to settle down quickly.
“I feel that the likes of Joseph Mbong, Juan Corbalan and Jake Grech have provided an added dimension to the team and I’m looking forward to bring in more U-21 players in our set up.
“I expect our approach against Kosovo to be no different to other matches. We will try and press them high up the pitch and try and carve up openings for our forwards to create scoring opportunities.
“Gone are the days when we used to defend in our half. I want the team to try and play positive football but retaining a good balance of remaining prudent when under pressure from our opponents.”
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