The Malta national team will begin its campaign for a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a qualifying match against Russia at Ta’ Qali Stadium tonight.
The team will be hoping to recapture the same success it saw during the UEFA Nations League campaign last year, where Malta finished second in Group D1 and went on a seven-match unbeaten streak, the first time in the team’s history.
However, the stakes are much higher this team round, with Malta facing a very competitive Group H consisting of Russia, Slovakia and World Cup finalists Croatia.
Nonetheless, the galvanised team, led by new head coach Devis Mangia, will be on full display tonight as it vies for a spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Here’s everything you need to know about the high-stakes match…
Malta has only ever played Russia once, in a friendly tournament, all the way back on 7th February 1996.
On that day, Russia had won 2-0.
A lot has changed since then. Russia is currently ranked 39th in FIFA’s Global Rankings and Malta is ranked 176th. Both teams have improved significantly, but the wide margin still remains.
The Malta national team is getting more attention now than ever. The team is on a current seven-game unbeaten streak, the first time in its history, following a successful UEFA Nations League campaign.
“Those performances have strengthened the players’ confidence as well as the belief in their own capabilities which is very important to achieve progress,” Mangia said in an interview with the Malta Football Association.
“Our main objective for this qualifying competition is to continue growing as a team and further raise our standards,” he said.
Unfortunately, the team’s progress and spirits were hindered by the introduction of new COVID-19 restriction measures which stopped all organised sports, meaning that the team wasn’t able to train for a number of weeks.
Thankfully, they were given an exemption to play by Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci.
Head coach Mangia named his 30-man squad on 11th March, including a mix of veterans and first-timers to the national squad. Most notably, Mangia called on three foreign-based players to be part of the squad – defender Zach Muscat, midfielder Teddy Teuma, and winger Luke Gambin.
A full list of the squad can be found below:
Henry Bonello (Valletta); Matthew Calleja Cremona (Hibernians); Jake Galea (Sliema Wanderers).
Andrei Agius (Hibernians); Steve Borg (Gżira United); Karl Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans); Zach Muscat (Casa Pia AC – Portugal); Enrico Pepe (Birkirkara); Kurt Shaw (Sliema Wanderers).
Myles Beerman (Sliema Wanderers); Ryan Camenzuli (Floriana); Triston Caruana (Valletta); Juan Corbalan (Ħamrun Spartans); Matthew Guillaumier (Ħamrun Spartans); Bjorn Kristensen (Hibernians); Joseph Mbong (Ħamrun Spartans); Nikolai Muscat (Gżira United); Steven Pisani (Gżira United); Nevin Portelli (Gżira United); Teddy Teuma (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise – Belgium); Dexter Xuereb (Gżira United).
Jan Busuttil (Floriana); Jurgen Degabriele (Hibernians); Shaun Dimech (Valletta); Luke Gambin (Newport County AFC – England); Jake Grech (Hibernians); Paul Mbong (Birkirkara); Luke Montebello (Birkirkara); Kyrian Nwoko (Valletta); Alexander Satariano (Sliema Wanderers).
Malta vs Russia will happen on home soil, in Ta’ Qali, tonight at 8:45pm. There will be no supporters in the crowd but die-hard fan club South End Core has made its presence felt with numerous flags across the stadium’s bleachers.
How To Watch It
Malta vs Russia will be streamed both on television and online on TVM2.
The match against Russia is just the first of three qualifiers in the space of a week. Win or lose, the players of the national team will have to recompose themselves and head abroad for away games against Slovakia on the 27th and Croatia on the 30th.
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