The Malta U-21 national team face their biggest test in the European Championship qualifiers when they face group leaders Spain at the Centenary Stadium tonight (kick-off: 8.45pm).
Gilbert Agius’ youngsters are bracing themselves for a daunting challenge against one of the strongest sides in the world at U-21 level.
The Spanish side have made a brisk start to their qualifying campaign, winning all four matches played, scoring 12 goals and conceding just three.
Coach Gilbert Agius has acknowledged the daunting challenge awaiting his team but is hoping that it will have a galvanise effect on his players who must roll up their sleeves and rise to the occasion.
“Spain’s strength in the game is well documented,” Agius said.
“I really believe the fear factor will be kept aside during the 90 minutes and my players will stay fully focused and motivated, moreso vying to grab this opportunity of playing against individuals of a higher calibre with already vast experience at the international stage albeit their young age.”
The Malta U-21 coach said that he was moderately pleased with the team’s performances last month which saw them suffer a narrow 2-1 defeat in Lithuania and then going down to Slovakia 4-0.
“This is a process, we are slowly moving towards this unified game philosophy we are trying to implement, this process shall be taken step by step but I believe we are on the right path in leading forward this group of players,” Agius said.
Agius conceded the fact that his team is lacking experience at this level but nonetheless is pleased with the efforts and tenacity the players are showing to further improve and thrive at this level.
The former Valletta coach again raised his concerns about the level of competition where most of his players are competing domestically.
“The majority of players in this group do have playing time, my biggest concern however is the level of competition, with some of them still restricted to the youth level, others to lower divisions,” he said.
Coach Gilbert Agius is also facing a formation dilemma with his key forward players from the previous outing in Slovakia both missing, with Alex Satariano back in the senior fold while Floriana’s Mattia Veselji is out injured.
“I am totally confident that whoever plays in attack on Friday against Spain will give his best as this could be the right opportunity to showcase his skills and attributes in view of upcoming fixtures next year,” Agius said.
“Satariano will surely be missed, his contribution in the 90 minutes in Slovakia last month where he performed diligently and has aided us significantly.
“However, it’s always a pleasure to see him (Satariano) and other players get to this point and lured to play with the senior side, Mattia (Veselji) sustained an injury in a youth league match with his club”
GOALKEEPERS: C. Formosa (San Ġwann), A. Sylla (Birkirkara).
DEFENDERS: A. Bradshaw (Balzan), M. Ellul (Hibernians), C. Gauci (Valletta), Z. Leonardi (Pieta Hotspurs), S. Okoh (Pieta Hotspurs), C. Zammit Lonardelli (Sirens).
MIDFIELDERS: A. Garzia (Floriana FC), K. Mohnani (Swansea University), N. Micallef (Ħamrun Spartans), A. Vella (Santa Lucia) A. Attard (Hibernians), M. Grima (Balzan), G. Sciberras (Mosta), J. Sixsmith (St. Andrews).
FORWARDS: L. Agius (KVC Westerlo), J. Carbone (Santa Lucia), J. Engerer (Sliema Wanderers), J. Ghio (Pieta Hotspurs), B. Sciberras (Floriana), A. Zammit (San Ġwann).