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Malta girls look to end campaign in style in Israel

Malta’s Rachel Cuschieri (right) in action against Georgia. Photo: Lasha Kurpashvili

There is one final hurdle for the Malta women’s national team as they will wrap up their UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 qualifying campaign with an away game in Israel, today (kick-off: 3.30pm).

Led by Mark Gatt, the Maltese girls are on the back of a historic 4-0 victory that has assured them of a best-ever finish at this level of qualifying rounds for a major tournament.

In addition, this was Gatt’s biggest competitive win on his 45th game in charge of the women’s national team.

The Malta coach is striving to carry the enthusiasm surrounding the team into the game against Israel with fourth place at stake.

Gatt, whose victory over Georgia was his 15th since taking over Malta, has lauded his team for their progress which was highlighted in these European qualifiers.

“Every victory is a bonus for us,” Gatt told the Times of Malta.

“Positive results shed light on the progress of this team from every aspect and it has been a pleasure to witness the growth of this group of players.

“They are becoming more mature and experienced in their game with our objective remaining that of getting as much points as possible in every tournament we are involved in.”

The Malta coach pointed out that although the backing of the Maltese public is an extra responsibility for the players to deliver, it means that this team is gradually being followed more.

Unlike Malta, Israel did not play since beating Georgia in September and therefore they had more time to focus on this qualifier, having also played three friendlies against Israeli clubs.

“Our preparation has been a bit different as we had two away trips during these difficult times,” Gatt explained.

“Nonetheless, I am upbeat about my team’s chances as such circumstances did not hinder our confidence, hence the win in Georgia.

For this, I would like to give credit to the Malta FA for chartering our flights as the technical staff had to think just about the game-plan for these two qualifiers.”

A victory against Israel would boost Malta’s chances of earning promotion into Pot 4 in the upcoming 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

In addition, among the teams in Pot 4 and 5 in these qualifiers, Malta are the second-highest scoring side with nine goals, one shy of fellow Group B side Israel.

“Making progress is our ambition and therefore this game will serve as another opportunity to improve this project and continue to make strides in the women’s game at international level,” Gatt explained.

“At the same time, we have to also underline the girls’ improvement as they continue to be exposed on the biggest stage in football while producing positive results.”

Forward Haley Bugeja wrote a new chapter in the history of Maltese football when she became the first ever player to score a competitive hat-trick for Malta.

Bugeja’s contribution in these qualifiers has been an additional value for Gatt’s team but the Sassuolo player feels that the whole team is stepping up for the occasion.

“The Georgia game was very special for me, of course,” she said.

“It will serve me as motivation but at the same time, it has been a splendid match for the national team as we managed to rewrite history and hopefully, it will be an incentive to do well against Israel.”

The former Mġarr United forward is looking forward to being on the field again and represent her national team as she feels that the team could be up to the task once again.

“We are preparing in the best possible way under the good guidance of our technical staff,” Bugeja explained.

“We have been studying our opponents but at the same time working on our strengths, and personally I am keen to showcase myself once again at international level.”

Malta’s encounter with Israel will be played at the Ramat Gan Stadium, former home of Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, who hosted several UEFA Champions League games there as well as a number of international matches of the Israeli men’s national team.


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