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Watch: Coach Gatt calls for focus as Malta women face Denmark

Malta women coach Mark Gatt speaks with his players during training. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Malta women’s coach Mark Gatt has called on his players to stay focused as they cross swords against European giants Denmark in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier at the Centenary Stadium, on Friday (kick-off: 6pm).

The Maltese girls are on the back of the second edition of the VisitMalta Tournament which saw Gatt’s side pick up a victory against Moldova before staging a gutsy display against World Cup hopefuls Morocco.

Coach Gatt is pleased with the attitude shown by his players throughout the training sessions heading into the stern test against Denmark, who won the reverse fixture in the competition opener back in September.

“We have been preparing ourselves in the best possible way for this match,” Gatt said.

“The players are concentrated and determined as they already know what they are expecting from this game having played against the same opponents three times in recent years.

“We have no fear of our opponents and we are striving to take as much positives as possible from such a challenge.”

Denmark are topping Group E with a 100 per cent record following six victories.

With second-favourites in this group Russia out of the equation, following the latest FIFA ruling due to the Ukraine invasion, the Scandinavian side can consider themselves already qualified to next year’s World Cup.

However, these qualifying games remain an important platform for them as they have already shifted their attention towards the Women’s Euro 2022 finals that will commence in July.

Denmark are tipped as one of the favourites to be crowned champions, having reached the final in the last edition in 2017.

Therefore, coach Gatt will be looking to identify how to contain a Denmark side that despite missing stalwart Pernille Harder, can still bank on a lot of gifted players.

“One of the aspects that we have been working on during the training sessions was our defensive phase, because it is crucial that we try to close down their passing channels,” Gatt explained.

“At the same time, we worked on how to try and counter-attack in an attempt to inch ourselves up on the field as well.”

For this game, that will precede the friendly against the Italy

U-23’s side, coach Gatt has called up a number of young players again. These include Jessica Dimech, Maia Debono, Leanne Cefai and Jade Schembri whose positive displays in the domestic competitions has been repaid with another senior call-up.

In addition, coach Gatt has also called up Raiders Lija forward Leah Ayres – 18 – who obtained the Maltese passport just in time for this double-header.

The English-born player was part of the U-19’s selection in February, when she played in both friendlies against Cyprus.

Ayres, who has 10 goals in the MFA Women’s League, has replaced the injured Alishia Sultana in the 22-player list.

The Malta women coach is a firm believer in nurturing the youth talent by providing them such platforms, which will help them integrate quickly with the team while adapting to the international stage at senior level.

“We are always on the look-out for promising players that can help us improve,” Gatt said.

“Our squad is very fluid because it constantly evolves and sees new faces. Although we don’t like to burn out youngsters quickly, sometimes we are forced to pick up very young players with the senior side due to our limitations in the pool of players.

“Nonetheless, we always make sure to give them their required time to develop and maximise their potential.”

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