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Malta target pre-Croatia boost
With the Euro 2012 home qualifier against Croatia (September 2) around the corner, Malta will be aiming to enhance their match sharpness and morale when they take on the Central African Republic (CAR) in a friendly at the National Stadium tonight (kick-off 8.30 p.m.).
Given the scant information about CAR, the Maltese players are in the dark as to the actual strength of their impending opponents but this should not impede them from giving their all to produce a bold performance.
“This is the first game of the sea-son for the national team,” Buttigieg told reporters.
“At the moment we are preparing for our remaining Euro qualifiers which will take place in September and October, meaning that the national team will play five matches in two months.”
Buttigieg bemoaned the varying fitness levels of his players who reported back for training with the national squad last week.
“This is a delicate moment for the players,” Buttigieg said.
“They have just returned after a break but some of them, those with clubs who played in the Relegation Pool last season, had been almost inactive for four months as some others kept going throughout the summer.
“It’s difficult to prepare in these circumstances but that’s the way things are. I’m sure that the players will give their all in this friendly as well as in our remaining qualifiers.”
Malta are rooted to the bottom of qualifying Group F with no points after six successive defeats.
Buttigieg is hoping his players cut out the costly mistakes which marred Malta’s performances in recent years.
“Our preparations are always the same,” Buttigieg said.
“We want to build on the work we’ve done in the last two years. We’ve noticed that the team’s mistakes are repetitive and I hope that we can rectify this in our next matches.”
CAR may be something of an unknown proposition but, going by their position in the FIFA rankings, they have done a lot better than Malta lately.
While Les Fauves (the Wild Beasts), climbed two positions to 89th in the latest FIFA rankings, Malta slid 12 places to 173.
Buttigieg is not troubled by Malta’s freefall in the world list.
“I don’t pay much notice to those rankings,” he said.
“I think they are not perfect. The formula has changed . I remember Malta was once ranked 16th in Europe, in the same bracket as England at the time! Our priority is not to improve our ranking but to improve our football.”
Buttigieg is not expected to use this warm-up to experiment with new players and tactics but the presence of the uncapped Christian Caruana and the return of Trevor Cilia suggests that the coach may give them a chance to advance their claims for regular inclusion in future selections.
“For Christian Caruana, this is his first call-up to the squad,” Buttigieg said.
“We have been following his progress for a year. As this game is a friendly, it looks like a good occasion for him to play a part. We’re allowed to make six substitutions against CAR, one player will not be involved but we’ll see.”
Buttigieg has also been suffi-ciently impressed with the form and fitness of Cilia to award the Birkir-kara winger a recall.
“We always try to pick those players we think are in the best form,” Buttigieg said.
“Cilia had some difficulties with regards to injuries last season but he’s getting back to his best.”
The Malta coach also explained that, after talks with John Hut-chinson, it was mutually decided that the Australia-born midfielder should stay with his Chinese club Chengdu Blades as they have two competitive matches in a week.
In Hutchinson’s absence, Ryan Fenech, Jamie Pace and Gareth Sciberras are vying for the two central midfield slots.
Meanwhile, widespread reports of CAR’s difficulties to fly their players to Malta due to visa and logistical issues raised doubts as to whether this friendly would actually go ahead as planned.
At the time of writing, the information we had was that some 10 members of their squad were here with the rest expected to arrive today.
CAR have not participated in the last two World Cup qualifying competitions but they have entered the preliminary stages for the 2014 edition.
Malta formation (probable)
J. Haber/A. Hogg, J. Caruana, G. Sciberras, A. Agius, R. Fenech/J. Pace, D. Bogdanovic, A. Cohen, R. Briffa, M. Mifsud, A. Schembri, C. Failla/C. Mamo.