Playing against England is the dream of every player forming part of the national team but for Jodi Jones the match has special significance as it gives him the chance to prove his talent against the country that has given him the opportunity to perform week in week out.
After coming through the youth ranks of Dagenham and Redbridge, Jones went to make a name for himself with Coventry City before a series of knee injuries derailed his career.
Last year he moved to Oxford United for a short stint before heading to Notts Country during the January transfer window.
The Malta international gradually managed to find his best fitness levels and form with the National League side and played a key role in helping the team complete a dramatic promotion to League Two when they beat Chesterfield in a penalty shoot-out in the play-off final at Wembley Stadium.
Now the Malta striker is hopeful to leave his mark for the national team when they face England at Ta’ Qali on Friday.
“It has been a very positive season for me,” Jones told the Times of Malta.
“We had a good battle with Wrexham to clinch direct promotion to League Two. The battle went down to the wire and we ended up winning promotion the hard away but hopefully, we managed to go up.
“The play-off semi-final against Boreham Wood was crazy and we found ourselves
2-0 down. I started on the bench and I was sitting there thinking that if we didn’t get promoted after the great season we’ve had it wouldn’t make sense.
“I was waiting for my chance and managed to come on and had a goal and an assist which thankfully took us to Wembley Stadium – it was a crazy feeling.”
The final against Chesterfield was another nail-biting affair with Notts County against finding themselves a goal behind.
“In the final we suffered the same fate, going one goal down and then equalising in the final minutes of normal time,” Jones said.
“In extra-time we conceded again but we kept fighting and we got the equaliser in what was a very dramatic final.
“A penalty shoot-out was needed, which was very nerve-wrecking, but taking penalties is something that I have been practising since I was a kid with my friends at the park.
“When I stepped up to take my penalty, I pretended to be with my friends in the park and thankfully I hit it well and it went into to the net. It was very emotional and it crowned a fantastic season.”
Jones admits that winning promotion with Notts County was a great injection of confidence for him but most importantly he feels fully fit, sharp and ready to go and says Malta’s win over Luxembourg was the perfect preparation for the clash against England.
“The success achieved with Notts County injected a lot confidence in me no doubt,” Jones said.
“It took me a while to get back to feel at my best both from a physical point of view. But now I feel fit and sharp like the old days and hopefully there is more to come for me.
“The Luxembourg friendly was an opportunity for us to get going again. Personally, I hadn’t played for four weeks while there were others who were without a match for six or seven weeks.
“That friendly was a good opportunity to build team chemistry ahead of the England match and it couldn’t have gone better.
“No doubt, had we lost against Luxembourg it would have made the build-up for the England match more complicated but after a difficult first half, we improved in the second and overall we played really well and we deserved to win.”
Throughout his club career Jones has played predominantly as a right winger but when called up with the Malta national team he has always been drafted as a striker or as an attacking midfielder.
But what is his favourite position?
“My best position is right wing,” Jones said. “I played there for a long time. However, members of my family think that I could also adapt as a striker. When I come to play for Malta, I had some great performances as a striker, such as against Northern Ireland, Israel and Luxembourg.
“My family might be right that I might develop into a good striker as I’m learning to get into spaces and pick up pockets in the opposing defences.
“Malta plays in a 5-3-2 formation with no wingers so I always have to adapt. But as long as the coach plays me I’m happy, be it as a winger, striker, midfielder or defender.
“I talk a lot with the other strikers in the team to try and learn from them and become the best player that I can possibly be.”
Turning his sights on tomorrow’s match, Jones said that it’s a massive occasion for him and his family, who will be present at the National Stadium, and admitted that scoring his first goal with the Malta red shirt would be the icing on the cake.
“When you face some of the best teams in the world, like it was against Italy and now England, it’s always a massive occasion,” he said.
“Playing and living in England, and also supporting England and Malta when I was a child this is a massive match for me. Honestly, I can’t wait as my family is all here and I am really excited.
“Scoring against England would be a crazy feeling. Against Luxembourg, I had a few chances with the goalkeeper denying me with two excellent saves from a free-kick. If I have the opportunity of taking a free-kick and manage to score it would be amazing, it would be really perfect.”
Jones has been playing for Malta for a few months now and said that he sincerely feels that this team has bags of potential and he had no doubts that with coach Michele Marcolini at the helm, there is more to come from this team.
“I feel like we get better every time we play together,” he said.
“It’s like every time we take a step forward. We had some great results lately, obviously the win against Luxembourg, we beat Israel while we were very unlucky against Northern Ireland.
“We are a good side, and the manager, who has been with us for only four matches, is coaching us very well.
“If we keep working hard I am sure that we can click together and can do really well in the near future.”
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