After a forced ten-month hiatus from international football due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malta Under 21 team will return to action on Friday when they face Northern Ireland at the Centenary Stadium (kick-off: 6pm).
This will be the first home match for the Reds in this UEFA European U-21 Championship Qualifying Group 8 following four away matches at the back end of last year.
The Maltese youngsters have fond memories of their first clash against Northern Ireland when they managed to grab a prestigious point in a goalless draw in Antrim.
Despite all the problems faced so far this year, which saw his players miss out on any competitive football due to the enforced stoppage of play due to COVID-19, coach Silvio Vella was still upbeat ahead of Friday’s match.
“The unprecedented issues we have all endured hindered all our preparations this year, we had matches lined-up for March, training camp in June, also a trip to play Bosnia away from home before summer.
“All plans had been forgone due to pandemic, but now we’re finally here and looking forward to this match.
“The period we’ve endured was not easy, but finally we’re here I know this is a youthful squad, but all players in the group are resolute to keep working hard and achieve a positive result,” Vella said.
“I always have full faith in my group of players, they’ve worked so hard to merit this call-up and are ready for the battle over the 90 minutes.”
The Malta coach will have several new faces in his squad for today’s squad.
Goalkeeper Andreas Vella, Jean Borg, Matthew Guillaumier, Shaun Dimech and Paul Mbong are all still part of this U21 team for current competition, nonetheless they have all been rewarded for their progress as they were promoted to the senior side for this week’s UEFA Nations League.
Moreso, coach Vella is without U21 experienced Sliema Wanderers defender Michele Sansone who has just undergone surgery just few days ago in Germany.
This meant the Malta U21 coach had to shape-up his squad rewarding the likes of San Ġwann keeper Cain Formosa, defender Carlo Zammit Lonardelli, who has just started a new club journey in Italy with Fidelis Andria, Adam Magri Overend, of Santa Lucia, and 18-year old Alex Satariano, with their first official call-up at U-21 level for these two home matches.
“The new structure the association is working on entails a unified philosophy of play, prior to these matches I’ve engaged in long conversations with Devis. Mangia and the rest of the coaching staff,” Vella said.
“I am delighted with the young players still eligible for my team but who have been promoted to the senior side and I wish them the very best, the young ones here, however, are doing well.
“We have been looking at these young players since a young age, and I’m sure if they stay focused and keep their work ethic they will succeed and be pivotal in this new long-term strategy.”