A final test awaits the Malta women’s national team as they will wrap up their 2023 Women’s World Cup commitments with an away game against Montenegro in Podgorica, today (kick-off: 6pm).
The Maltese girls are on the back of a 2-0 defeat against Azerbaijan which left a sour taste in the environment.
Mark Gatt’s side, whose chances of challenging for a potential play-off berth were already out of sight, were vying for another 10-point record for the second qualification campaign in a row.
With one game left, Malta have only four points to show for their efforts in Group E. Azerbaijan pipped the Maltese team to fourth place with six points.
Montenegro, Malta’s next opponents, are fighting for a chance to finish second and ensure a spot in round 1 of the European play-offs for next year’s tournament.
The Eastern European side need the three points against Malta while hoping that Azerbaijan cause another upset and beat Bosnia-Herzegovina as the latter currently occupy second place with 10 points.
Malta’s four points include also a 2-2 draw against the Bosnian side while in the reverse fixture against Montenegro they fell to a 2-0 defeat on home soil.
Looking back at the whole qualifying campaign, Malta coach Gatt believes that his side should have had more points to justify their performances.
“I have mixed feelings about this qualification campaign,” Gatt told the Times of Malta.
“Apart from the last game against Azerbaijan, we have been at our best in other games and with a little more attention to detail, we could have been playing for the same prize as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro on Tuesday.
“At the same time, this should serve as a wake-up call that other nations are improving which shows that with appropriate investment, you can bridge the gap with the teams and keep on improving.”
Gatt, in his final game as Malta women’s coach which will be his 62nd overall since 2015, believes that his players have what it takes to end on a positive note.
“I would like to see a general improvement from my team and an attitude that reflects the strong showings we have already demonstrated in this qualifying campaign,” Gatt said.
“More defensive security, more efficiency upfront and less technical mistakes is what I want the most when facing Montenegro.
“Patience will be key while it is also crucial that we combine our positive things we have done in recent games in order to secure a positive finale.”
Coach Gatt is wary that Malta needs to improve from the Azerbaijan game if they want to gain a positive result in Podgorica.
“Looking back at the Azerbaijan game, there was a combination of things that went wrong,” Gatt explained.
“Our final meet together, before this September International window, was back in April, having skipped the June window due to factors that were not under control whereas Azerbaijan had played a double-header against Turkey in June.
“Moreover, our proposed shared pre-season plan with the local clubs, except Birkirkara who played in the Women’s Champions League, was not always respected and that hindered our preparations as well.”
At the same time, Gatt also took responsibility for trying to implement a more offensive approach for this game which might have backfired throughout the 90 minutes against Azerbaijan.
“I hope that the Azerbaijan defeat was just an off day at the office and that against Montenegro we showcase ourselves and demonstrate what we are about,” Gatt said.