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Kazakhstan will be our toughest test, says Malta U-21 coach Woods

Malta U-21's coach Ivan Woods. Photo: MFA

Malta U-21 national team coach Ivan Woods has described the team’s qualifier against Kazakhstan as the toughest test faced by his players so far as the two countries go head-to-head at the Tony Bezzina Stadium on Thursday (kick-off: 6pm).

The Malta youngsters have yet to pick up a point from their opening four matches but a more encouraging factor is the fact that the players have shown a consistent amount of improvement in terms of performance.

In fact, last month the team were unlucky to leave the Scottish city of Motherwell with a point in their bag only to concede a late goal and suffer a 2-1 defeat.

On Thursday, the team face a Kazakhstan team who have lost all their opening three matches and while there may be high expectations on the team’s chances to break their duck in the group, coach Ivan Woods said this could turn out to be counterproductive for his team.

“For me, this match is the toughest game we have faced so far in the group,” Woods told the Times of Malta.

“The reason for this is because there are great expectations that we can beat Kazakhstan and that could make our job tougher as there is more pressure to achieve a positive result than in previous matches. Nobody expected us to take points against Spain, Belgium, or Hungary but against Kazakhstan our fans are expecting us to win, but it’s not so straightforward.

“We have to remember that Kazakhstan is a country that boasts a population of 20 million and so far they have put on some strong performances despite failing to pick up a point. They were beaten by Belgium 1-0 and lost to Hungary 2-0 but they are a team that is difficult to break down.

“So no doubt we need to approach the match with the same intensity and hunger of our previous matches if we are to secure a positive result. If we don’t, then we are in for a disappointing evening.”

Asked to describe Kazakhstan’s qualities, Woods said: “They are not a team with great technique such as Belgium, Hungary, or Spain but they are a very physical side.

“Kazakhstan defend very well and play aggressive football. It’s very difficult to breach their defence as they make good use of their physical qualities. It will be important that we adopt a patient approach and try and play our game.

“As I said I expect a very difficult test for us and hopefully we will have a big crowd behind us to support our players in such a delicate clash.”

Woods is boosted by the return of Reading striker Basil Tuma who missed last month’s qualifiers due to injury. However, the Malta coach is without some key players due to injury, namely Brooklyn Borg, Mattias Ellul, Zean Leaonardi, and Jed Valletta.

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