After a long absence from the international stage, the Malta women’s national team will host Denmark behind closed doors in a UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 qualifier at the Centenary Stadium, on Tuesday evening (kick-off: 18.30).
This will be the first outing for Mark Gatt’s team since their double-header against Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina back in March. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Malta’s Euro schedule as the Denmark match was moved from April to September while the final two games against Georgia and Israel were rescheduled for November and December respectively.
Prior to the lockdown, the girls in red were carrying a positive momentum with encouraging results against Switzerland (1-1) and Georgia (2-1), and also in the 3-2 defeat to Bosnia.
The pandemic forced the team to train individually and for a long time also remotely. This was an unexpected blow to Gatt’s plans but the Malta coach is confident that his team can resume their progress.
“It is important that we carry the progress shown so far into the remaining qualifiers, starting from the Denmark game,” Gatt told Times of Malta.
“Obviously, the coronavirus situation was not ideal for us but it has left a negative impact on everyone and therefore we have to look forward with a lot of optimism.
“I am pleased with the team’s feedback so far as they are continuing to step up their game and provide more competition for a spot in the starting line-up.”
Denmark will surely prove a tough test but Gatt is keen to see how far the team has progressed throughout these qualifiers.
“We are looking forward to step up on the pitch,” Gatt explained.
“We will be facing a team that we should have encountered back in April, however, we still continued to work and try to keep the team as active as much as possible.
“Once back on the training grounds, we picked off from where we had left off and the team looks determined so far.”
Denmark recorded an 8-0 win over Malta in their opener.
The Danes, who were finalists in the previous Women’s Euro edition, are leading Group B together with Italy, captained by Pernille Harder who just swapped Wolfsburg for Chelsea for a record transfer free.
“Despite being the strongest team we faced in these qualifiers, I still believe in our abilities and at the same time it will be an experience that will help us to grow,” the Malta coach said.
One of the foreign-based players selected by coach Gatt is Haley Bugeja.
The former Mġarr United player stunned football with a spectacular brace on her Serie A debut with Sassuolo Femminile.
“It was an emotional night for me and it took me a couple of days to process everything,” Bugeja said. “Nonetheless, I was aware of my national team duty afterwards and therefore I immediately switched focus as I want to give my best while on duty with my country.”
The Malta squad includes six other players who feature overseas with four of them playing in Italy like Bugeja.
“Obviously, there have been players before me who made this step and they were a source of inspiration for my decision,” the 16-year old explained.
“I tried to absorb as much information and advice from them to take with me at Sassuolo.
“I feel that this was the best time to take such a big step in my career and I am grateful that everything has started well.”