The Malta women’s national team will return to action with a stern test in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers against giants Denmark.
After hosting the Danes on April 8 at the Centenary Stadium, Malta will take on Italy U-23’s selection in a friendly on April 12.
The home friendly will replace the qualifier against Russia which was originally scheduled on that date before being called off due to the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine.
“This international window will see us face a tough side in Denmark,” coach Mark Gatt told a news conference.
“They are one of the best teams in the world and whenever they play against teams like us, they strive to win and score a lot of goals.
“Nonetheless, we always eye improvement against these type of teams as we look to match their quality with our bravery in order to make sure we give our utmost on the field.”
The Italian U-23’s selection will provide Malta an intriguing challenge where coach Gatt can see his team in action against a strong side, having had their original qualifier against Russia called off.
“The Malta Football Association is committed to helping this movement grow and we were looking for options to replace the Russia game,” Gatt said.
“Then, the Italy U-23’s opportunity came up and we believe this can be an important test for us.”
For the Maltese coach, the objective remains the same – try to help this team progress forward and remain competitive with the teams ranked in the same region in the FIFA rankings, which was highlighted in February’s VisitMalta Tournament against Moldova and Morocco.
Coach Gatt has picked up 22 players for this international window where the 94th-ranked Malta side will meet Denmark, ranked 15th, for the second time in this campaign.
Six foreign-based players are included in the Malta squad.
Rachel Cuschieri who is on the books of Serie A side Lazio and Serie B trio Nicole Sciberras (Tavagnacco), Emma Lipman (Como Women) and Martina Borg (Roma Calcio Femminile) have all made the selection. Maria Farrugia and Ylenia Carabott, who ply their trade in English football at Sunderland Ladies and Keynsham Town Ladies respectively, have also made the cut.
Sassuolo player Haley Bugeja will not be joining the squad as she is sidelined with an injury.
Malta women’s league leaders Birkirkara are represented by Charlene Zammit, Alishia Sultana and Ann-Marie Said. Stephania Farrugia – who has 84 caps – is not available for selection as she is recovering from an injury as well.
Mġarr United have Patricia Ebejer, Maia Debono, Leanne Cefai, Francesca Chircop and captain Brenda Borg selected in the national team squad. They are joined by the returning Rebecca Bajada whose last international cap dates back to April 7, 2019, when Malta played an away friendly at Romania.
The Maltese coach took the opportunity to heap praise on the local-based players who always manage to step up their game on the international stage while he explained how the ones that play abroad always bring a lot of experience in the side.
“Facing Denmark means that we will be heading into a tough game but at the same time it helps us build our character when facing such an opponent,” goalkeeper Patricia Ebejer explained.
Ebejer is currently deputising for Janice Xuereb between the sticks as the Birkirkara goalkeeper is currently absent due to an injury.
“I am aware that I am filling the big shoes left vacant by Janice Xuereb, but at the same time playing more games injects more confidence and I hope that I continue to improve in order to help my team in the best possible way,” the Mġarr custodian said.
Gatt has chosen also Swieqi United’s Jodie Attard, Jessica Dimech, Jade Flask, Jade Schembri, Emma Xuereb, Shona Zammit and Dorianne Theuma.
Denmark, who are topping Group E and are just one point away from securing a spot at the Australia/New Zealand 2023 World Cup given Russia’s suspension, will be involved in next summer’s highly-awaited European Championships in England. They have been drawn against Germany, Spain and Finland in their group.
On the other hand, the Italian U-23’s selection is composed of players based in the Serie A Femminile and Serie B Femminile.
Coached by Selena Mazzantini, they faced Portugal, Sweden, Netherlands and Spain in between October and November, with the selection serving as a stepping stone for the senior side.
Malta will host Denmark on April 8, at the Centenary Stadium (kick-off: 6pm).
The Italy U-23’s friendly is pencilled for April 12, at the Centenary Stadium (kick-off: 11am).
GOALKEEPERS: Patricia Ebejer (Mġarr United), Jodie Attard (Swieqi United).
DEFENDERS: Jessica Dimech, Jade Flask, Jade Schembri(Swieqi United), Maia Debono, Rebecca Bajada, Leanne Cefai (Mġarr United), Nicole Sciberras (Tavagnacco, Italy), Ann-Marie Said, Charlene Zammit (Birkirkara).
MIDFIELDERS: Emma Xuereb, Shona Zammit, Dorianne Theuma (Swieqi United), Emma Lipman (Como Women, Italy), Rachel Cuschieri (Lazio, Italy), Alishia Sultana (Birkirkara).
FORWARDS: Ylenia Carabott (Keynsham Town Ladies, England), Brenda Borg, Francesca Chircop (Mġarr United), Martina Borg (Roma Calcio Femminile, Italy), Maria Farrugia (Sunderland Ladies, England).