Malta women’s coach Mark Gatt could not have asked for anything better from his players when they hosted the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euro runners-up Denmark, last Friday.
The Maltese team, ranked 79 places below the Scandinavian side, were already trailing by two goals inside the first seven minutes of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier.
Denmark looked on course to another big victory against Gatt’s side after scoring 25 goals without reply in the previous three head to head encounters.
Nevertheless, Malta managed to leave a shaky start behind them and stepped up their performance at the Centenary Stadium.
“The team staged a well-oiled tactical performance against Denmark,” coach Gatt explained.
“They were brave enough to match Denmark’s quality with their own fighting spirit and it was not easy, especially after trailing by two goals so early in the game.
“However, the team grew in confidence and I feel we had an even better performance in the second half.
“Obviously we are not pleased to lose but given our track record against a team that boasts players from the best leagues across the world, one has to appreciate the defensive performance that this team has put in”.
An objective that the coach laid out for his team against Denmark was to try and take as much positives as possible against Denmark, ranked 15th in the world.
The players responded in the perfect manner with a performance that bodes well for the future of the women’s game on our shores.
“I think we managed to gain a lot of positives against Denmark,” Gatt pointed out.
“For example, we handed a competitive starting debut to a young player like Jessica Dimech who performed well in the absence of a key player like Stephania Farrugia.
“We had other important players sidelined, including Alishia Sultana and Haley Bugeja. But those who replaced them, rose to the occasion to help this team in the best possible way.”
The Denmark performance is not a one-off display from the Maltese side. Indeed, it follows up other impressive performances such as against Italy
(0-2) and Sweden (0-3) which bolster Malta’s reputation of a very organised and disciplined side.
For coach Gatt, this is not a minor detail. Other teams are acknowledging Malta’s resilience and compactness on the field and the Maltese coach feels that his group of players can be an inspiration to other local athletes.
“There is a lot of work being done behind the scenes to provide our players the best preparation possible during the international window,” Gatt explained.
“It is a collective effort that comes to fruition when every component of the team delivers with passion and is committed to the cause.
“I believe that these are key features that can enable us to reach our objectives. When I speak about objectives, I am not referring to winning the World Cup but to the realistic targets that even a small island like us can achieve against the big guns.
“I firmly believe that this group of players can inspire other local athletes to chase their dreams and set their benchmark higher.”
Malta will wrap up this international window with a friendly against the Italy U-23’s selection at the Centenary Stadium, on Tuesday (kick-off: 11am).
The Italian side is composed of Serie A-based players that are knocking on the senior team’s door.
Italy’s side include Lazio pair Noemi Visentin and Ludovica Falloni who are team-mates of Rachel Cuschieri and have also played with Emma Lipman at the same club, last season.
Falloni was also team-mate of Nicole Sciberras at Grifone Gialloverde in Serie B between 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Sciberras will also reunite with former Juventus team-mates in Martina Toniolo, Melissa Bellucci, Ludovica Silvioni, Michela Giordano and Asia Bragonzi with whom she won the Viareggio Tournament in 2020.
Gatt’s side faced Italy’s senior team in the previous UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 qualifiers.
Past meetings include a non-competitive game between Malta and the Italian U-19 side in 2006 and a 2018 U-17 qualifier which Italy won 2-1 thanks to a Serena Landa’s brace, who is now part of the U-23’s selection.
“Playing against Italy is an important test for us because this will add further international experience to our side,” Gatt said.