Every international window is always of great importance and source of pride, but this one feels different for coach Mark Gatt.
After seven years in charge of the Malta women’s national team, Gatt will leave the post after the upcoming double header against Azerbaijan and Montenegro in the 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
Gatt is eyeing a strong finale to this campaign in which Malta has scored four points so far and is on course of reaching the 10-point tally for a second straight qualifying round.
In the previous qualifiers – for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 championships, Malta had managed to wrap up their commitments with victories against Georgia and Israel.
Both wins ensured Malta a fourth-place finish in the six-team group and a tally of 10 points – the highest ever by the senior women side in a proper qualifying campaign.
The Team of the Year award at the SportsMalta Awards followed up, marking a historic moment for the women’s game in Malta.
Under the guidance of coach Gatt, the Maltese side has continued to improve on what they had started with former coach Pierre Brincat and became a respectable side in Europe.
Continuous growth has propelled Malta to secure 33 positive results in 60 games with coach Gatt, with 81 goals scored which is not a minor feat for a small island on the international stage.
Previously, Gatt had also spent 39 games between 2007 and 2014 as assistant coach to Brincat while also coaching the national team at youth level.
“My adventure at the helm of the senior national team will come to an end with these two games and I am striving to end on a positive note,” Gatt said.
“I will always relish my time in this position, but right now I am focusing on these two games in order to keep developing this national team.”
Today’s game against Azerbaijan, ranked 81st, represents a great opportunity for the Maltese to add more points to the four they have registered so far.
The Maltese side – sitting 10 places behind Azerbaijan in the FIFA Rankings, had beaten the Azeri side 2-1 in Baku back in October. That victory had followed the 2-2 home draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
However, Gatt’s team failed to rack up more points despite improving performances especially against Montenegro on home soil (0-2) and in Zenica, against Bosnia-Herzegovina (0-1).
The two defeats together with Bosnia-Herzegovina’s last-gasp win against Azerbaijan basically dashed Malta’s hopes of a potential second-place finish, which would have guaranteed a European play-off spot.
While Denmark have already sealed their passage to next year’s tournament, Russia’s expulsion meant that the second and final spot was up for grabs.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro are now contending it, with the Bosnians to face Azerbaijan away in the final day. Simultaneously, Montenegro will be rubbing shoulders with Malta in their capital city of Podgorica.
“These are two games where we can play our preferred style of football,” coach Gatt explained.
“We are striving to add more points to our tally as we believe we can even record victories in this double-header.
“We have to respect our opponents but I am confident in my team to stage two strong performances against both Azerbaijan and Montenegro.”
For this game, coach Gatt will bank on his usual experienced group which include members of the Birkirkara team that wrote history in the UEFA Women’s Champions League including Raina Giusti – scorer in the 2-1 win against Glentoran, who has replaced Ylenia Carabott in the squad.
“Obviously, a lot of players have not played since May before the pre-season started,” Gatt explained.
“All players have now started to play with their clubs and some of them, especially the foreign-based, have already played competitive games as well.
“At the same time, Birkirkara’s players had a good preparation as well having featured in the UEFA Women’s Championship registering a historic victory which made us proud.”