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Marcolini tells players to be focused against North Macedonia

Malta National Team coach Michele Marcolini watches over his players during training. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Malta national teams head coach Michele Marcolini wants his players to focus on their game as they look to pick up their first point in the Euro 2024 qualifying camp when they host North Macedonia at the National Stadium on Tuesday (kick-off: 8.45pm).

So far, the Euro qualifying campaign has provided little cheers for our national teams in terms of points gained as the side has lost all four matches played so far, and managed to score just one goal.

The prospect of hosting North Macedonia might raise the hopes of seeing the team gain a positive result, but the former Yugoslavia republic is heading to our islands determined for the three points to boost their hopes of a qualifying spot, following their unexpected 1-1 draw against Italy last weekend.

The build-up for this match was a positive one as Malta produced a very good display in a 1-0 win over Gibraltar and Marcolini is hopeful his players can carry that momentum into today’s match.

“We are coming from a very good performance against Gibraltar where we managed to control the match for long spells and created several scoring changes,” the Italian coach said.

“Obviously it was a different match when compared to the others we played in the qualifying group where we faced some very tough opponents that made it tough for us to play our game.

“North Macedonia are a very strong team. One has to remember that they only missed out on a place in the World Cup after losing the final play-off and eliminated Italy. They have some top-quality players, such as (Eljif) Elmas, who is on the books of Napoli, and they are particularly strong in attack, and we need to be focused right from the word ‘go’.

“Our team will go out and try and play our game. It’s important that we are patient and tactically disciplined so that when they opportunity comes we try and hurt our opponents with swift attacking play.”

Malta players go through the paces ahead of the Euro 2024 qualifier against North Macedonia. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Against Gibraltar, the Maltese players showed a good level of physical condition despite the fact that our domestic championship has yet to start.

“It’s true that against Gibraltar we didn’t have any problems from a physical point of view but one has to remember that it is easier when you have the ball on your feet than when you’re chasing your opponents,” Marcolini said.

“The fact that we head into this match with several players who have not played competitive matches is not good and that was mirrored in the fact that some of the players needed more time to recover than normal.

“Had the match been played three days later it would have given us a big problem, but luckily we had six days to prepare and now the team is in good shape.”

On his part, Zach Muscat, who is on the books of Portuguese top-flight side Farense, said that Malta’s secret weapon against North Macedonia should be the team’s camaraderie and fighting spirit.

“When you play these kinds of matches you need to fight as a team,” Muscat said, “Team work is key for us in these matches, and in our squad, all the players are also very good friends outside the pitch and that bond is very important when you are facing tough challenges.

“It’s important that we fight for each other so that hopefully we can give our fans something to smile about against North Macedonia.”

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