The Malta U-21’s national team are closing in on their biggest test in their 2023 U-21’s European qualifications as they will cross swords with 2019 champions Spain on Friday, at the Centenary Stadium.
Spain are currently topping Group C with 12 points after winning their opening four games including against second-place Russia, whom they will face following their Malta meeting.
They have scored 12 goals in four games and conceded just three, including twice against Slovakia in a hard-fought 3-2 victory in October.
Coached by the 2019 winning coach Luis de la Fuente, Spain’s squad is mostly composed of players who feature in the domestic league – La Liga.
In fact, 14 of the players picked all feature with La Liga teams namely Athletic Club, Real Sociedad, Valencia, Real Betis, Osasuna and Celta Vigo.
The remaining players are based in Spain’s second tier while Sergio Gomez Martin and Abel Ruiz Ortega play at Belgium’s Anderlecht and Sporting Braga of Portugal respectively.
Barcelona’s Nico Gonzalez, who has already played 12 games for the Blaugrana this season, was dropped from the squad due to an injury.
Coach de la Fuente, who guided Spain during this summer’s delayed Tokyo 2020 games where they eventually lost the final to Brazil, highlighted the importance of their upcoming games.
“They are two key games for us,” the Spain coach said in a news conference.
“Russia may be our direct rival but we know the importance of the two games so it won’t be easy at all.”
Spain has a tremendous record in this competition, in particular since the turn of the century. In the 2000 edition, Spain placed third before winning the competition three times including in 2013 when they defeated Italy in the final, then coached by current Malta coach Devis Mangia.
In this year’s tournament, Spain exited the tournament in the semi-finals after losing 1-0 to Portugal.
ATHLETIC CLUB: Julen Agirrezabala Astúlez; Unai Vencedor París; Nicholas Williams Arthuer; Oihan Sancet Tirapu.
ESPANYOL: Joan García Pons.
REAL SOCIEDAD: Gaizka Ayesa Burgui; Julen Lobete Cienfuegos; Jon Karrikaburu Jaimerena; Beñat Turrientes Imaz; Urko González de Zárate Quirós.
MÁLAGA: Víctor Gómez Perea.
REAL ZARAGOZA: Alejandro Francés Torrijo; Francho Serrano Gracia.
REAL SPORTING: José Gragera Amado; Gaspar Campos-Anso Fernández.
VALENCIA: Hugo Guillamón Sanmartín.
REAL BETIS: Juan Miranda González; Rodrigo Sánchez Rodríguez.
MIRANDÉS: Sergio Camello Pérez.
OSASUNA: Manu Sánchez del Moral.
CELTA VIGO: José Manuel Fontán Mondragón.
ANDERLECHT: Sergio Gómez Martín.
BRAGA: Abel Ruiz Ortega.