The Malta Under-21 national team will be looking to stage a positive performance on home soil when they host Lithuania in a European Championship qualifier at the Centenary Stadium this afternoon (kick-off: 4pm).
Led by coach Gilbert Agius, Malta sit fourth in the six-team group with six points following their victories against Northern Ireland, 4-0 at home and 2-0 away, in one of the best-ever campaigns registered by a Maltese Under-21 selection. The Maltese youngsters will now turn their attentions on Lithuania as they plot a way to make amends for their first-round defeat against the Baltic nation.
In fact, that was Lithuania’s only victory in this campaign as they are anchored at the bottom of the group.
Malta Under-21 coach Gilbert Agius is focused on helping his players to maximise their potential and showcase their talent on such occasions, such as this afternoon’s game against Lithuania.
“In football, there are fine margins between performing well and to the best of your ability, and failing,” Agius said in his pre-match comments.
“Against Lithuania, we must ensure to stay focused throughout the entire 90 minutes and try to build on the encouraging outings that this team has produced during this competition.”
Coach Agius heaped praise on his group of players having managed to chalk up six points against a difficult opponent such as Northern Ireland.
“The result was terrific, perhaps it does not reflect the performances put on the field by the two teams, but we managed to capitalize on their mistakes to score two sensational goals,” he explained.
“The goals that we scored were a result of executing to perfection the positive transition, a system that we have been working on.
“Nonetheless, that game is behind us now and we just need to take all the positives from that trip to face the remaining qualifying games.”
However, the former Valletta captain is wary about his primary task which is nurturing this crop of Maltese youngsters ahead of the next step in their international career, which is representing Malta at senior level.
“My main focus remains to help these players to improve,” Agius pointed out.
“At the same time, results are important as well at this level and I will never underestimate the effort that players put in
to achieve two extraordinary results.”
Asked about what kind of challenge is expecting from Lithuania, coach Agius underlined several features that will make this encounter a tricky one for his team.
“Lithuania are a good side and we lost only 2-1 in the reverse fixture back in October,” the Malta coach said.
“Since that game, a lot of things have changed but Lithuania’s football idea has remained the same as they are a team that likes to play direct football, can bank on some skillful players and physically are very strong.
“We have to be at the top of our game while showing full desire and commitment to stand a chance for a positive result against Lithuania.”
For this qualifier, coach Agius recalled goalkeeper Rashed Al-Tumi, who joined Sliema Wanderers in January and San Ġwann’s Cain Formosa, who was one of the three senior goalkeepers in Malta’s friendly against Azerbaijan last Friday.
Moreover, Agius also picked up five new players in San Ġwann’s James Vella, Kurt Bondin of Żebbuġ Rangers, Matthew Debattista of Melita, Valletta’s Sheldon MacKay, Joseph Zammit of Nadur Youngsters and Jed Valletta who is on the books of Birkirkara.
While coach Agius would like to see his players have more playing time especially in the top-flight, he explained how they take note of other features such as the players’ attitude, their personalities and their nutrition.
“We are here to help this group of players grow and perform to their highest standards,” Agius said.
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