National teams head coach Michele Marcolini has told his players to try and enjoy the occasion as Malta face a tough assignment against England in a Euro 2024 qualifier at the National Stadium on Friday (kick-off: 20.45).
England represents Malta’s toughest assignment so far in Group C as Gareth Southgate’s men lead the way after impressive victories over Italy in Naples and against Ukraine at Wembley Stadium.
The Malta coach is aware of the huge challenge awaiting his players when facing some world-class players such as Bukayo Saka, Harry Kane, and Marcus Rasford, just to name a few.
“England are for me one of the best teams in the world,” Marcolini told the pre-match press conference.
“They have already proved that they are the best team in the group as it’s not easy to go to Italy and win the match after putting up a very strong first-half performance and creating a lot of chances to score.
“This is by far our toughest assignment but my message for the players has been quite simple – try and enjoy the occasions as much as possible as these are the matches that one lives for, particularly as we are playing in a sold-out stadium and with an electric atmosphere.
“In the last couple of years, Malta have shown a lot of improvement and we have the results that prove that. It’s going to be a tough match but what we need to think about is to try and be the best that we can on the pitch.
“I want my players to play for each other and be brave when we have the ball in our feet and hopefully we will have some luck on our side. Football can be crazy and sometimes unexpected things happen so we keep our fingers crossed.”
Asked whether having the match being played at the end of a season could be the best time to face England, particularly with players from Manchester City who ended their club commitments last Saturday with their win in the Champions League final, Marcolini begged to differ.
“Actually, this is better for England as the Malta players restarted training on the 8th of May after just two weeks of rest from the end of the domestic season in April,” the Italian said.
“Prior to the friendly against Luxembourg, we haven’t played a competitive match for six weeks and therefore we had quite a difficult preparation. And that is why I am proud of my players with the result attained against Luxembourg as they gave their 100 per cent every day and hopefully, we are now ready to play against England with good physical and mental condition.”
The Malta coach has eased concerns on midfielder Teddy Teuma as the Royal Union Saint-Gilloise player, who is recovering from a knock suffered in his club’s final league match, trained with the team on Wednesday.
“Teddy Teuma completed his first training session with the rest of the team on Wednesday and we are hopeful that he will be available for the match,” Marcolini said.
Malta is coming into the match against England on a high following their 1-0 win over Luxembourg last week.
During that match, Marcolini gave the nod to some players who were on the fringes of the team and they performed really well, giving the Italian a possible selection headache for today’s match.
“I was very proud of my players, particularly for their performance against a very good Luxembourg team who have shown their potential during the last UEFA Nations League where they have done really well,” Marcolini said.
“Every player that I select for my team is here because they deserved it and as national teams’ head coach, these matches are useful because I want to understand who are those players that can help us and can be part of our developmental project.
“Obviously, I have some decisions to make and I hope that I will select the right players to ensure we can achieve our best possible performance.”
On his part, goalkeeper Henry Bonello said that all the players in the team are focused on putting up their best possible performance.
“Obviously, England are a very good team, who have a lot of top players,” he said.
“Surely, we don’t have problems of being motivated for the match. Our focus on Friday will that to try and play our game and try to keep the ball as much as we can and if we have the opportunity to score we need to try and take it.”
Asked whether he makes any particular preparation for opposing players he will be facing, such as Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, and Bukayo Saka, the Ħamrun goalkeeper said: “No. I only focus on myself and make sure that I play the best I can and try to keep out as many balls as possible.
“In these matches, I always want to give my best and try to enjoy it as much as I can.”
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