WC Qualifier Preview: Malta – Albania

Malta host Albania in a game which could earn the hosts their first points in these qualifiers, even though the visitors will be searching for a win that would send them on top in Group 1.
Kick-off: Wednesday, February 11, kick-off 1930 local (CET)

One of only three European World Cup qualifiers scheduled for Wednesday will be played at the Ta Qali stadium of Malta, where the home side will entertain Albania, one of the main surprises in these early stages of the qualification groups.

The visitors are in fact tied in third place with Portugal and Sweden, as they all have five points each, although the Scandinavian side has a game in hand.

A win for Albania in this match would mean topping Group 1 for at least one month, and a chance for a nation to dream of a rare qualification for the next World Cup.

Some of Malta's best results over the past three years have been obtained in European qualifiers and friendlies. However, things have gone downhill since the start of these World Cup qualifiers as they suffered four straight defeats, conceding 11 goals and not scoring any.

Overall, in their last six home games, Malta managed two wins, both during friendly games against Liechtenstein (7-1) and Iceland (1-0).

On the other hand, Albania have won just once in their last six games,  drawing twice. Their only win arrived against club team Schaffhausen.

Past Encounters

Over the past 15 years, there have only been three friendly matches played between these two sides at Ta Qali. Both teams won one game each and the remaining match ended in a draw.

The last win for Malta dates back to 1995, whereas Albania’s most recent win occurred in 2000. The two teams have already met in this World Cup qualification group, with the game ending in a 3-0 home win for Albania.


FORM GUIDE

Malta
Nov 19 Malta 0-1 Iceland (FRIENDLY)
Oct 15 Malta 0-1 Hungary (WC QUALIFIER)
Oct 11 Denmark 3-0 Malta (WC QUALIFIER)
Sep 10 Albania 3-0 Malta (WC QUALIFIER)
Sep 06 Malta 0-4 Portugal (WC QUALIFIER)
Aug 20 Estonia 2-1 Malta (WC QUALIFIER)

Albania
Nov 19 Azerbaijan 1-1 Albania (FRIENDLY)
Oct 15 Portugal 0-0 Albania (WC QUALIFIER)
Oct 11 Hungary 2-0 Albania (WC QUALIFIER)
Sep 10 Albania 3-0 Malta (WC QUALIFIER)
Sep 06 Albania 0-0 Sweden (WC QUALIFIER)
Aug 20 Albania 2-0 Liechtenstein (WC QUALIFIER)


TEAM NEWS

Malta Squad

Goalkeepers - Justin Haber (Sheffield Utd), Andrew Hogg (Valletta)
Defenders - Andrei Agius (Igea Virtus), Ian Azzopardi (Sliema), Roderick Briffa (Valletta), Luke Dimech (Valletta), Clayton Failla (Hibs), Alex Muscat (Sliema), Brian Said (Marsaxlokk)
Midfielders - Gilbert Agius (Valletta), Shaun Bajada (Birkirkara), Andrew Cohen (Hibs), Ryan Fenech (Hamrun), Kevin Sammut (Marsaxlokk), Andre Schembri (Carl Zeiss Jena)
Attackers - Michael Mifsud (Barnsley), Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza (Birkirkara), Terence Scerri (Hibs)


Albania Squad

Goalkeepers - Arjan Beqaj (Anorthosis Famagusta - CYP), Isli Hidi (Alki Larnaca - CYP), Samir Ujkani (Palermo - ITA)
Defenders - Andi Lila (KF Tirana), Armend Dallku (Vorskla Poltava - UKR), Debatik Curri (Vorskla Poltava - UKR), Ansi Agolli (KF Tirana), Kristi Vangjeli (Aris Thessaloniki - GRE), Endrit Vrapi (KF Elbasani), Elvin Beqiri (KF Vllaznia)
Midfielders - Ervin Skela (Energie Cottbus - GER), Gilman Lika (Hacettepe - TUR), Ervin Bulku (Krivbas Kriviy Rig - UKR), Elis Bakaj (KF Dinamo), Klodian Duro (Omonia Nicosia - CYP)
Attackers - Erjon Bogdani (Chievo - ITA), Hamdi Salihi (SV Ried - AUT), Xhevahir Sukaj (KF Vllaznia), Besart Berisha (AC Horsens - DEN)



PLAYERS TO WATCH


Malta
Michael Mifsud will be the danger man for the home team, even though he has not hit best form this season at Coventry, which prompted his move to Barnsley a few weeks ago.

Albania
The Maltese national side will have to be careful of Erjon Bogdani as he will need to be man-marked very closely in order to limit his potential to cause damage.


PREDICTION

The home team know that this is practically their only chance of obtaining any points in this group and will do their utmost, backed by the local crowd, to avoid finishing last without any points to show. A draw seems the most likely outcome here.

Malta 1-1 Albania

Glenn Debattista, Goal.com