The Malta Under-21 team face Romania on Tuesday in a UEFA Under-21 Championship Qualifying Group 8 (kick-off: 7pm).
Preparations for the game in Giurgiu, a town on the border with Bulgaria, have been hampered by the COVID situation with coach Silvio Vella having to make several changes from the squad for the home game with Denmark (1-3) on Friday.
Vella said: “We have never been in a more difficult situation as in two days I had to change the squad completely.
“This was necessary due to the complications encountered, entailing big changes in the squad.”
The 22-man squad that has made the two-hour trip to Romania early yesterday morning is largely made up of new players with only Aidan Friggieri together with defenders Gary Camilleri and debutant Darren Borg having been in the starting XI for the 3-1 defeat to Denmark last Friday. Jan Tanti and Omar Elouni have earned a recall to the U-21 squad.
Vella has called on the newcomers to seize the opportunity.
“We have a lot of information about these players, this is their first experience at this level and I’m confident that they will gain from this,” the Malta U-21 coach said.
“We have one final training session in Bucharest before the match. We will be assessing the situation before deciding on the starting line-up.
“The match on Tuesday is important but we must think and work long term with these players, giving them more opportunities to gain experience ahead of the new competition.”
The Malta U21 team produced a commendable performance in the 3-1 defeat to Group 8 leaders Denmark with the result considered harsh as the latter prevailed with two late goals.
“Considering that the situation was already difficult before Denmark match, the boys did well, keeping their discipline throughout the match,” Vella said.
“We had some new faces and debutants in the team but overall it was a truly encouraging performance where we shared play against very strong opponents for most of the 90 minutes.
“I was very pleased with the endeavour and determination shown by all players who are trying to play football, adapt to our football philosophy and try to win a regular spot in this squad.
“Even the Denmark coach had words of praise for our performance but we need to look ahead.”
Romania will be going all out to get back to winning ways and bounce back from their defeat to Ukraine which left them with almost no chance of winning Group 8.
MALTA U-21 SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: C. Formosa (San Ġwann); D. Formosa (St Andrews).
DEFENDERS: D. Borg (Ħamrun Spartans); G. Camilleri (Balzan); M. Fenech (Naxxar Lions); C. Gauci (San Ġwann); O. Spiteri (San Ġwann); M. Spiteri (Tarxien).
MIDFIELDERS: K. Attard (Tarxien); M. Farrugia (Hibernians); M. Gatt (Qrendi); J. Ghio (Pietà Hotspurs); R. Jeffries (Hibernians); L. Mallia (San Ġwann); L. McKay (Santa Lucia); J. Tanti (Senglea Athletic); A. Vella (Santa Lucia).
FORWARDS: O. Elouni (Gżira); A. Friggieri (Gudja); J. Scicluna (Pietà); A. Spiteri (Mosta); A. Zammit (San Ġwann).