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Unity and determination key to challenge Italy says Malta national teams coach Marcolini

Malta coach Michele Marcolini (centre) and defender Enrico Pepe speak to a press conference. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Michele Marcolini wants his players to adopt an aggressive approach and play for each other as the Malta national team faces a daunting task when facing European champions Italy in a Euro 2024 qualifier against Bari on Saturday (kick-off: 8.45pm).

Still without a point after five matches, Malta face a near-impossible task of breaking their duck against Italy.

The Azzurri have no margin of error if they are to stay ahead in the race for the runners-up spot in the group which sees them engaged in a three-way battle with Ukraine and North Macedonia who also face each other in the Czech Republic today.

Malta’s task at the San Nicola Stadium is made even tougher when one considers that the team will be without three very influential players in the team, namely skipper Steve Borg, midfielder Teddy Teuma, and striker Jodie Jones.

“We arrive for this match with some very important absentees,” Marcolini told a news conference yesterday.

“We have Steve Borg suspended while Jodie Jones and Teuma are out of this match due to injury. There is great sadness in our contingent for not having them available for this match. Teddy Teuma has sent a message of support to the players and said that he was very disappointed to miss out on such an important match.

“As everyone knows we are playing in a very tough group against some formidable opponents but so far I have been very pleased with the attitude shown by my players so far. Recently we managed to emerge victorious in friendlies against Luxembourg and Gibraltar.

“Now, we would like to end this group campaign strongly and try a win at least a point which would be of great prestige for us.”

Marcolini said that he has been pleased with the effort put in by his players so far but against Italy he expects his team to adopt a more aggressive approach and wants his players to work for each other, particularly in tough moments throughout the match.

“I am pleased with the effort and application shown by my players so far,” Marcolini said.

“In all the matches, we have tried to make life difficult for our opponents and have left the field with our heads held high. In North Macedonia, we pushed them hard in the end for an equaliser, against Ukraine we lost 1-0 from a debatable penalty, and against Italy, while they deserved the win, we had our chances, especially early on, which could have given the match a different outlook.

“It’s important tomorrow that the players enjoy the occasion which will surely be another important learning curve in their development as a team. We will be under pressure as it’s not easy to play in front of 57,000 spectators.

“When facing quality teams like Italy, the players have to work together or else they have no chance of securing a positive result. We need to adopt a more aggressive approach and work for each other, particularly in difficult moments of the match.

“Making good use of the ball when in possession will be key but I have full confidence in my players.

“Our team unity is our best weapon to confront a strong team like Italy.”

For Marcolini, the match against Italy holds special significance for him as the 48-year-old made his Serie A debut with Bari where he played for four years at the San Nicola Stadium.

“Destiny has reserved some fantastic opportunities for me,” Marcolini said.

“Playing two matches against my country is a great emotion and more importantly to have the chance to play here in Bari where I spent four of my best years as a player fills me with great pride.

“This city has helped me a lot from both a professional and human aspect and I made some great friendships. On Saturday, I will experience one of the biggest emotions of my career so far when I step into the field to lead Malta in front of 57,000 supporters.”

The build-up to tonight’s match has been hampered by the betting scandal that hit the Italian national team which saw midfield duo Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo forced to quit the team after they ended up being investigated in a betting scandal.

Asked how he thinks it can affect Italy for this match, Marcolini said: “When you receive such news it’s normal that you have a destabilising effect. Such news will be hard to digest among the players.

“However, one has to remember that historically when Italy found itself in a difficult situation they have always come out on top as triumphs in the 2006 World Cup and the Euro 2020 have shown.

“I am sure that on Saturday the character in the team will come to the fore and will provide the right response in such a difficult scenario.”

On his part, Enrico Pepe said that the team is aware of the difficult task awaiting them against ‘one of the best teams in the world’.

“It’s clear that we are facing one of the best teams in the world and that tells you enough of how hard our job is,” the Birkirkara defender said.

“We will take the pitch determined to try and make our country proud and try to play at the best of our ability. Certainly, we are not starting the match feeling that we have already lost the match as that would be our downfall.

“I can assure you that right from the word ‘go’ we will be ready to battle the Italian team and try and make life difficult for them. If we work for each other and give more than our 100 per cent I believe that anything can happen.

“Our main aim is to try and get the best possible result for our fans.”

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