The Malta women’s national team will make their first international appearance in 2021 when they host Slovakia in their VisitMalta Women’s Tournament opener, at the Hibernians Stadium on Thursday afternoon (kick-off: 15.00).
This will be the first time that Mark Gatt’s side will play since their double-win over Georgia and Israel late last year, which sealed Malta’s record-breaking 10-point haul in the qualifying campaign for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.
Although coach Gatt won’t have his full squad available for this game, due to a number of injuries that hampered his preparations, he is still pleased with his team’s preparation ahead of the Slovakia clash.
“For us, facing Slovakia is more than a simple game – it’s a challenge,” Gatt told the Times of Malta.
“We will be taking this game as a challenge to measure ourselves against a team, who is in Pot 3.
“At the same time, it will be an opportunity to give more playing time to fringe players or to the new faces who have joined us for this camp.”
In fact, the first edition of this tournament will serve the national team as a preparation ahead of the upcoming 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers that will kickstart in September.
Slovakia could be one of the teams that Malta could face in the qualifiers, hence Gatt is eager to test the progress of his squad against a team ranked 45th in the world.
“It is important that this team remains united throughout the upcoming games, because the level of difficulty will be very high and we need to pay attention to every detail,” the Malta coach said.
“At the same time, it will be an opportunity to grow in our game as we continue to progress and learn from these high-profile encounters.”
For Gatt, this will also be an opportunity to build on the progress shown so far. Having steered his team to a fourth-place in the qualifiers, with three wins recorded on home and away soils, the Malta coach was rewarded with a contract extension and is keen to repay the trust put in him.
“We have to resume our good work and my contract renewal means that the association is pleased with our development as well,” Gatt underlined.
“It fills us with more encouragement because it means that we are on the right track and we want to reap the benefits of all the hard work we have done in recent years.
This tournament will also be the first international commitment at senior level for Dionne Tonna, who replaced Frank Schembri as assistant coach.
Tonna, who represented Malta also as a player, has heaped praise on the technical staff who gave her a warm welcome in her early days on duty.
‘Source of pride’
“The national team has always been a source of pride for me, both as a player and as coach,” Tonna explained.
“To be part of this set-up, is very important for me to keep growing in my role.”
Nonetheless, this won’t be the first time for Tonna as a coach at international level. In fact, the former Hibernians player was at the helm of the U-16s and U-17s girls teams during the Development Tournaments which have enriched her CV.
“Obviously, there are huge differences from youth to senior level,” Tonna highlighted.
“But one thing that I always try to bring myself into the dressing room, is hope and positivity – players always want someone to encourage them and, together with my staff, I always want to bring such harmony in this team.”
For Tonna, the Slovakia game at the Hibernians Stadium will bring her memories of a game she played at the same venue around 15 years ago.
Back in 2006, Tonna represented the national team in a qualifying match against Bosnia-Herzegovina at today’s venue.
“I remember that match very clearly, which we played over a decade ago,” Tonna explained.
“The players will enjoy their chance to play on such a wonderful field and I am looking forward to seeing what this experience will bring for them.”