Malta will host Moldova and Morocco in the second edition of the VisitMalta Women’s International Trophy between February 16 and February 22.
This international tournament will be organised by the Malta Football Association through its commercial arm MFA Sports Plus Limited and was launched on Friday morning at a news conference at the Centenary Hall.
Malta, ranked 95th in the latest FIFA Women’s Rankings, will use this tournament as a preparation for their upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers against Denmark and Russia that will be played both on home soil in April.
Mark Gatt’s side is at the back of two qualifiers played last year against Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the first one being played at the Centenary Stadium and the other one away from home as they have four points after their first six qualifiers following a 2-2 draw vs Bosnia-Herzegovina and 1-2 win away vs Azerbaijan.
The Malta women’s team will launch the VisitMalta tournament against 100th-ranked Moldova on February 16 at the Tony Bezzina Stadium, at 4pm. This will be Malta’s first game of the year before they host CAF side Morocco (ranked 78th) on February 19, at the Tony Bezzina Stadium – at 4pm as well.
“First and foremost, I would like to thank MFA Sports Plus for making this tournament an annual fixture for women teams, even during these difficult times due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I also thank the Malta Football Association for its backing to the women’s football movement,” Gatt told a news conference.
“This is an important tournament that will boost the women’s game on our shores and which will complement the projects that we embarked on with the local schools in order to engage with more girls across the Maltese islands.
With regards to these two games, they are going to be very important for us because while we continue to remain active at international level, they will serve us as a preparation for next April’s Women’s World Cup qualifiers against Denmark and Russia.”
Coach Gatt, who at 58 games is one game away from matching former coach Pierre Brincat’s record of 59 games at the helm, is pleased with the general improvement that the team has been showing and is upbeat about the progress that this side can continue to make in the future.
“Having a mix of foreign-based and domestic-based players is proving important to us because it continues to make our side competitive from every aspect, including mentally and physically,” coach Gatt explained.
“In these friendlies, we will put what we have learned so far into test again while I will make sure to hand more playing time to some of our young and promising players as they are the future of our team.”
Midfielder Shona Zammit, who is one game away from collecting her 60th cap, is keen about the upcoming games against Moldova and Morocco because it will serve as another opportunity for the women’s team to showcase themselves on an important stage.
“The team has developed a lot in recent years and this is the fruition of the hard work and commitment that we have put to reach such level,” Zammit said.
“This growth has enabled us to catch up with a number of national teams that used to beat us comfortably in the past.
Our current squad is very competitive which means that we have to give our utmost during both training sessions and the games in order to maintain our place with the national team, and that reflects the improvement that has been done.”
Both Moldova and Morocco will be facing Malta for the first time in their international history in the women’s game. UEFA members Moldova are coached by Eduard Blanuta, whose son Vladislav is on the books of Serie C side Pescara.
Like Malta, Moldova are involved in the 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifications where they are in Group G alongside Italy, Switzerland, Romania, Croatia and Lithuania.
Their squad is composed of several foreign-based players who feature in some of the best leagues across Europe namely Italy, Cyprus and Ukraine.
Morocco, on their part, are one of the much-improved nations in African women’s football and are currently ranked 78th in the world.
Coached by two-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner with France’s Olympique Lyon, Reynald Pedros, Morocco will use this tournament as a preparation for this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations that they will host and which will serve as a qualification tournament for next year’s Women’s World Cup.
The North African side are striving to qualify for their first-ever Women’s World Cup and their squad is mainly composed of players from Morocco’s best club – ASFAR. Tottenham Hotspur’s Rosella Ayane, former England youth, is also one of the key names in the Morocco’s side.
For these two games, coach Gatt named 22 players including seven who ply their trade overseas.
In fact, there are two players who are based in England in Maria Farrugia of FA Women’s Championship (second-tier) Sunderland Ladies and Ylenia Carabott who is on the books of Keynsham Town Ladies, in the FA Women’s National League (third-tier).
In addition, there are five players who feature in Italy. These are Rachel Cuschieri of Serie A’s Lazio and Haley Bugeja, who also plies her trade in Italy’s top-flight but at Sassuolo. Joining them are Serie B duo Emma Lipman (Como Women) and Nicole Sciberras (Tavagnacco) as well.
Goalkeeper Maya Cachia of Crotone in Serie C and who plays with Moldova’s Daniela Mardari – also picked up by her national team – will be joining Mġarr United’s Patricia Ebejer in a goalkeeping department that will miss regular starter Janice Xuereb, of Birkirkara, who is unavailable for selection due to an injury.
The defensive department includes also Birkirkara’s trio Alishia Sultana, Charlene Zammit and Stephania Farrugia together with three players from Swieqi United in Jade Flask, Jade Schembri and Jessica Dimech. Mġarr United pair Leanne Cefai and Maia Debono.
Birkirkara’s Ann-Marie Said and Swieqi United’s players Dorianne Theuma, Emma Xuereb and Shona Zammit are the other midfielders picked up by Gatt while Mġarr’s attacking partners Brenda Borg and Francesca Chircop are also included in the national team squad.
Goalkeepers: Patricia Ebejer (Mġarr United), Maya Cachia (Crotone – Italy).
Defenders: Leanne Cefai, Maia Debono (Mġarr United), Jessica Dimech, Jade Flask, Jade Schembri (Swieqi United), Stephania Farrugia, Alishia Sultana, Charlene Zammit (Birkirkara), Nicole Sciberras (Tavagnacco – Italy).
Midfielders: Rachel Cuschieri (Lazio – Italy), Emma Lipman (Como Women – Italy), Maria Farrugia (Sunderland Ladies – England), Ann-Marie Said (Birkirkara), Dorianne Theuma, Emma Xuereb, Shona Zammit (Swieqi United).
Forwards: Brenda Borg, Francesca Chircop (Mġarr United), Haley Bugeja (Sassuolo – Italy), Ylenia Carabott (Keynsham Town Ladies – England).
Wednesday, February 16 – Malta vs Moldova, Tony Bezzina Stadium, 4pm.
Saturday, February 19 – Malta vs Morocco, Tony Bezzina Stadium, 4pm.
Tuesday, February 22 – Morocco vs Moldova, Tony Bezzina Stadium, 4pm.
Photo c/o Joe Borg.