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Raiders Lija’s clinical forward Ayres delighted after Malta debut

It was a rollercoaster of emotions until she got her Maltese passport and became available to make her senior debut in a World Cup qualifier.

For youth forward Leah Ayres, this will remain one of her main highlights in her football career.

During the April international window, Ayres was expected to feature for Malta in the U-19’s European qualifications held in Northern Ireland after having already played for Frank Schembri’s selection during the double-header against Cyprus, in February.

“The experience with the U-19’s national team produced a lot of positives for me,” Ayres told the Times of Malta.

“I forged a good relationship with the team and the coach, and I see a lot of talent coming up from that group of players as well.”

Unfortunately for Ayres, the Maltese passport did not arrive in time and therefore she could not make the Northern Ireland trip with the U-19’s team.

Nonetheless, another opportunity arose for the young player as she received the final confirmation of her passport just in time to make the senior cut.

In fact, Ayres collected her maiden cap as she came on in the final minutes against Denmark in the 2-0 defeat in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifications.

She was then handed a starting berth as Gatt’s side hosted Italy U-23’s, where the Raiders Lija featured in the first half.

Malta coach Mark Gatt is keen about injecting more youth in the ‘A’ team and for him, Ayres was another player to whom he could provide the chance to join the big guns and soak the environment at international level.

“The passport situation was very stressful to be honest,” Ayres admitted.

“However, once completed I was over the moon and pleased to be given this opportunity.”

English-born Ayres is one of the exciting talents coming up from the Maltese game and her positive displays in the domestic competitions have eventually caught the eye of the Malta FA coaches.

Ayres’ talents become noticed as she came through the ranks of Mosta before joining Raiders Lija prior the 2021/2022 campaign.

Under the guidance of coach Denis Guerra, Ayres flourished as she joined forces together with Maya Lucia and Sarah Vella Barbieri upfront.

She is the club’s leading scorer with 10 goals, sitting fourth in the league’s scoring charts.

Ayres’ impressive season has propelled Raiders Lija to a remarkable campaign as they sit fourth in the seven-team league with 25 points.

Guerra’s side chalked up eight wins and in the process secured important results such as beating Swieqi United and Mġarr United.

For Ayres, playing in the forward position at club level presents her the challenge of facing established defenders every week and therefore it helps her to make an upgrade in her performance.

She reunited with some of these players when she embarked on the senior national team camp which has allowed her to train with high intensity and continue to learn from them.

“The experience with the Malta women’s senior national team was a quick thing given the circumstances, of course.

However, it has been a great experience for me to train alongside some of the players to whom I look up to in the domestic game.

It’s been an overall learning curve for me to meet these international players.”

THIS WEEK’S FIXTURES

TUESDAY – 20.30

Raiders Lija vs Swieqi United, Centenary Stadium.

Kirkop United vs San Ġwann, Mġarr Ground.

WEDNESDAY – 20.30

Mtarfa vs Birkirkara, Centenary Stadium.

MD19 bye: Mġarr United.  

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