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EURO 2024 qualifiers

Marcolini set to make changes as Malta braced for tough Ukraine challenge

Malta national team players go through their paces in their final training session. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

The Malta national team are bracing themselves for another tough evening as Michele Marcolini’s men take on Ukraine in a Euro 2024 qualifier at the Anton Malatinsky Stadium in Trnava, Slovakia (kick-off: 18.00).

The Maltese players head into the match on the back of a disappointing showing against England last Friday which saw the team suffer a heavy 4-0 defeat at the National Stadium, one which left them bottom of Group C, and still in search of their first point after three matches.

On Monday evening, the Maltese are set for another tricky evening when they face a Ukraine team who are in buoyant mood after a dramatic victory over North Macedonia last Friday that kept them on course to challenge for a qualifying spot in Group C as they are currently sharing second spot with Italy on three points.

“When the draw was made we were aware that we were pitted in a very tough group,” Marcolini told the Times of Malta.

“After England, we now have to face Ukraine who are a team who boasts a great technical level and great experience to compete in top international competitions.

“The result against England may look tough but sometimes you have to concede the strength of your opponent who boast incredible talent in their squad and every time they attacked us they put us under a lot of difficulty.

“Definitely there were some things which we should have done better and against Ukraine we will try to be more effective when pushing forward to put them under a bit of pressure when they will give us the

opportunity.

“I can assure you the Maltese players were disappointed against England as they failed to cause any problems to the English defence as when we had the ball on our feet we failed to make the most of it.

“Against Ukraine, we need to work more as a team and try and involve more players when pushing forward but having said that it’s not going to be easy as we are facing a very strong side.”

Ukraine are heading into the match against Malta in a head of steam after some impressive performances this month.

In fact, they held Germany to a 3-3 draw, in a warm-up match which saw them lead 3-1 at one point, while on Friday they came back from two goals down to beat North Macedonia 3-2 in Skopje.

“Ukraine is a team who have a high level of energy,” Marcolini said.

“They are blessed with a crop of highly-experienced players who play in some top teams in Europe and it will be another tough test.

“Ukraine is a team who normally like to keep four players high up the pitch and that is something we need to be wary of as when they go into transition they can be lethal and that was mirrored by the fact that they scored two of their goals exactly from such a situation.

“Against North Macedonia, on the other hand, they showed great character to come from two goals down and win the match. Definitely, they have some top-quality wingers in Mudryk, Yarmolenko and Malinovskiy so we need to be wary not to give them space to hurt us.”

In the past days, Marcolini had highlighted his concern on his players’ physical condition as they are naturally struggling from fatigue after a long season, and the Italian admitted that he is likely to make some changes from the team that beat England.

“The players have given a lot in these last two matches and I need to check how their energy levels are,” he said.

“I am mulling over making a couple of changes. On Saturday, the only players that trained were the ones who were not involved against England while the others just recovered.

“I will have to see how the players are in the last training session and then take the decisions to ensure I field those players who have the right physical and mental condition to face Ukraine.”

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