An exciting matchup is coming up for the women’s game in Malta. Two Maltese players will be meeting each other in the prestigious National Football Youth League final on Thursday.
The cup will be contended between Barking Abbey, who have Malta U-19’s captain Alexandra Gatt on their books and Emma Ciantar Piccinino’s Sunderland Foundation of Light.
Hosting this highly-anticipated cup final is the University of Bolton Stadium, home to former Premier League side Bolton Wanderers.
A fitting stage for a movement that has been on the rise in England in recent years with the numerous investments that women’s football is attracting in that region.
This final matchup is a deserving season finale for the two Maltese youngsters who have proven themselves in this 2021/2022 campaign.
For Ciantar Piccinino, this was her second year at the Foundation of Light but in reality it was her first in a proper way.
The U-19’s player, who was part of the national team that clinched promotion to League A in the recent European qualifiers, is at the back of a long-term injury that had practically denied her from touching the field of play in the previous year.
Her commitment and resilience have paid dividends having established herself as a key player at Sunderland in the NFYL season.
She has played 17 games and found the net on 7 occasions, playing from a midfield position.
“The final is a nice reward after a hard first season back from injury and ending the season with silverware shows the hard work that me and the rest of the team have put in,” Ciantar Piccinino told the Times of Malta.
“Playing in a stadium like that proves the level of this competition.
It is an exciting feeling knowing that Premier League teams have already graced that field and playing in a such a stadium is an experience that one does not get often.”
Opposing Ciantar Piccinino is defender Gatt, captain of the U-19’s selection including in April’s qualifications held in Northern Ireland.
She is in her first experience outside Malta after swapping Mġarr United for Barking Abbey, the club whom she helped reach the final.
Gatt has already made a name for herself at the team and has been involved in 12 games. She also managed to grab five goals including a double on her debut against Tottenham Hotspur.
“I’m really excited to play in this final,” Gatt said.
“At the beginning of each season, as a team you set aims and work hard all season to achieve them. Now the cup final is coming up and the whole team is buzzing and can’t wait to play. We had ups and downs but moments like these are so special.
Playing in such a venue makes the game even more exciting than it already is. It shows how well the women’s game is progressing as players under the age of 20 like us are having these opportunities to play in these types of pitches.”
Gatt and Ciantar Piccinino are familiar to each other having represented Malta at youth level together. Both players were selected by U-19’s coach Frank Schembri for round 1 (held in Malta) and round 2 (held in Northern Ireland) of the European qualifications.
They have also crossed swords in the domestic competitions as well, when Gatt was still part of Mġarr while Piccinino was at Raiders.
Barking Abbey reached the final after defeating the B team of Sunderland Foundation of Light.
“I’m so happy and proud that in the NFYL League Cup Final there will be two Maltese players,” Gatt explained.
“It’s exciting to see that Emma (Ciantar Piccinino) and I used to play together back in Malta, as 6 year-olds, playing mini 5 a-side tournaments and now we will play against each other in a cup final on foreign soil!.”
On the other hand, Sunderland Foundation of Light’s A team – with whom Ciantar Piccinino plays – secured a narrow 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town PV.
“Being good friends from back home, it would be very nice to see her and have the chance to play against her in a cup final like this,” Ciantar Piccinino said.