After a stoppage-time goal which saw Malta lose to Luxembourg at Ta’ Qali last Thursday, the national team’s next challenge is against Finland tonight. Ahead of the match against the strong Scandinavian team in Belek, however, spirits are still high, with Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saying he’s optimistic that the team will be putting up a better performance than the one against Luxembourg.
“We tend to play better in the second match when we have a double header,” the Hibernians goalkeeper told MFA.com.mt. “Probably it’s because we adapt better to the rhythm and tempo of international football after the first game.”
Hogg also reminded everyone of the importance of friendly matches when it comes to testing out new strategies and techniques. “We also need to keep in mind that these are friendlies and I assume that the coach will be trying some new things,” he said. “The performance is important but we also want to obtain a positive result.”
Hogg’s is not the only optimistic outlook ahead of tonight’s friendly.
Yesterday, Malta coach Tom Saintifiet said he wants the national team’s players to “believe in our own qualities, we have to play our own game, more than we did against Luxembourg, and hopefully we will get rewarded with a result.”
The Belgian coach admitted that a last-minute defeat like the one Malta suffered against Luxembourg less than a week ago was a psychological blow. “After the Luxembourg game on Thursday, there was a low-key atmosphere, the feeling in the dressing room was terrible. It was like that in the evening and the morning after, because the goal was a cold shower.”
Now, however, everyone’s concentration has shifted to the match ahead of even more superior Finland (at least as far as FIFA World Rankings go, with their 68th placing). “The group have started to believe again in their chances,” Saintifiet told MFA on Sunday. “We have swallowed the disappointment of the Luxembourg game, everyone is looking forward to getting a good performance here.”
“They are a physically strong team,” Saintifiet said of the Finnish side. “I hope against Finland, who usually play a flat 4-4-2,we can play our game and can create more offensive chances.”
All these matches are of course valuable preparation ahead of the UEFA Nations League, a new competition which will be kicking off in September.
There, Malta will face Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands and Kosovo with two group matches played in the space of three days every month between September and November. “This is a useful test for us,” Hogg told MFA. “They give us the opportunity to gauge ourselves against opponents of a similar level to those we’re going to face in this competition.”
Finland’s last match three days ago, also played in Belek, resulted in a 0-0 draw against FYR Macedonia, who at 75th, are ranked 13 places higher than Luxembourg.
Today’s match at the Gloria Sports Arena at Belek Turkey kicks off at 6pm Malta time. Other international friendlies being played today will be Wales vs Uruguay and Portugal vs Netherlands (later at 8:30pm) among others.