Italy will look to make amends for a disappointing loss to England in Naples when they make the trip to Malta for their second group game.
The Azzurri got off to an inauspicious start to the defence of their European title, losing at home to England in the first of their qualifying matches in Group C. These two nations are bottom of the group without a point as Malta prepare to welcome Italy to Grawnd Nazzjonali in Ta’ Qali.
Malta are among Europe’s worst teams, currently at 167th place in the FIFA World Ranking. They have never made it to a major tournament and began this qualification journey with a 2-1 defeat to North Macedonia last time out in a game where they gave a decent account of themselves but still came up with no points to show for it.
But their recent progress card shows signs of improvement in results. In their last 15 games (friendlies included), they had games where they won against some bad teams, like Cyprus and San Marino, but they also won against Azerbaijan and Israel and drew 2-2 against Greece.
These results suggest they can pull off an upset on their day but will need a huge stroke of luck to get anything out of this game against the reigning European champions.
Italy will be seeking to bounce back from their home loss to England. Gareth Southgate’s men dominated the first half, scoring twice to take a 2-0 lead into the break. Italy came out stronger in the second 45 minutes, reducing the deficit to half in the 56th minute when Mateo Retegui scored on his international debut.
Italy continued to cause problems for England in the second half. And when Luke Shaw was sent off for the visitors ten minutes from normal time, it appeared like Italy might come away with a point. However, that was not the case, and Roberto Mancini’s men suffered a narrow defeat.
Italy recently made the headlines after missing a second World Cup in a row for the first time in their history. Despite missing both World Cups, Italy won the EURO 2020 between them and are also in the Nation League finals. So things are looking up for the Azzurri.
Team News & Tactics
Nearly the whole Malta squad plays their club football domestically. There are a few players, such as Teddy Teuma and Jodi Felice Jones, who play in other countries in Europe.
Michele Marcolini should not have too many injury problems for their home clash against Italy, but he will have to make do without centre-back Enrico Pepe, who joins Valletta’s Triston Caruana in missing out through injury.
Marcolini named an attacking 3-4-1-2 formation against North Macedonia but could opt for a more defensive 3-5-1-1 lineup here. Midfielder Yannick Yankam should be recalled to Malta’s starting XI after scoring as a substitute against the Macedonians. He could act as the additional central midfielder, forming a midfield five alongside the likes of Joseph Mbong, Bjorn Kristensen, Matthew Guillaumier, and Ryan Camenzuli.
The experienced Zach Muscat should be able to come in as a replacement for Pepe at the back. He will join Ferdinando Apap and Steve Borg to form a back three in front of goalkeeper Henry Bonello.
Creative midfielder Teddy Teuma will be the main source of attacking prowess in the Malta side after his recent strong performances for his club side, Union Saint-Gilloise, in the Europa League. Alexander Satariano, who has three goals to his name from 25 outings, will join him to make a two-man strike force.
Probable Lineup (3-5-1-1): Bonello; Muscat, S. Borg, Apap; J. Mbong, Kristensen, Guillaumier, Yankam, Camenzuli; Teuma; Satariano
Both Nicolo Barella and Leonardo Bonucci have left Italy’s camp, with the former forced off injured against England and the latter failing to even make the bench. Federico Chiesa has not been called up for the games due to a tendon irritation.
It will be intriguing to see what type of lineup Roberto Mancini will go with. The Italian fans won’t be panicking just yet. But anything less than a comfortable three points would raise some eyebrows at this early stage of qualification.
Malta will just seek to keep opponent goals to a minimum and frustrate Italy in the hope of coming away with a respectable final tally. Thus, he will be wary of fielding a starting XI that is too inexperienced.
🗣️ @robymancio: "We expected a tough game and it was. We dominated that second half and deserved to draw. We need to roll up sleeves now."#ITAENG #EURO2024 #Azzurri #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/zsFaMn9uka
— Italy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@Azzurri_En) March 23, 2023
Mancini might go with a mix of young and experienced players, giving Leeds United’s Wilfried Gnonto another chance to shine for the national team. Mateo Retegui made his international debut against England in midweek, starting and finishing the game, as well as scoring his team’s only goal.
Matteo Politano has been in fine form for Napoli and could be handed a chance to impress in the front three. Lorenzo Pellegrini is expected to keep his place in the team but could be dropped into the midfield three. Sandro Tonali and Bryan Cristante will likely replace Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella.
There should be no changes at full-back positions, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Leonardo Spinazzola manning their respective flanks. Giorgio Scalvini and Alessio Romagnoli could be the preferred central defensive partnership.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Scalvini, Romagnoli, Spinazzola; Cristante, Tonali, Pellegrini; Politano, Retegui, Gnonto
- As expected, Italy have a dominant head-to-head record against Malta, having won 14 games and drawn three of the last 17 meetings.
- Malta have lost each of their last 10 Euro Championship qualification matches.
- Italy have lost once in the last 41 European Championship qualification games, albeit that came in the last fixture against old foes England.
- Italy have six consecutive away wins in Euro qualifiers.
- Four of Malta’s last five games have had over 2.5 goals.
Player to Watch
With Ciro Immobile injured and Gianluca Scamacca out of form, Italy’s Argentine-born striker, Mateo Retegui, stepped up to score on his international debut in midweek against England. And it was a very well-taken goal. It was the kind of performance that showed why clubs are lining up for his signature.
Retegui has played all his career in Argentina so far. He scored 22 league goals for Tigre last season and has carried that form into this season, bagging six goals already from eight games. Destined to join one of the European big hitters this summer, the 23-year-old is out to impress and will be looking to put himself in the shop window by finding the back of the net against Malta this weekend.
Malta 0-3 Italy
Italy will be suffering after their loss to England. So they will hope for a resounding victory here to reinstate positive vibes amongst Azzurri fanbase before the Nations League finals in June. And they might just get their wish. Malta are a determined side and will look to relish the underdog role. But the gap in talent between the two sides is substantial, even with Italy’s injury woes.
Italy have won all eight of the meetings against Malta. Six of the eight fixtures saw Italy win to nil, and this one could endure a similar fate. The Azzurri should register another pretty easy victory over Malta on Sunday evening, making it nine wins from nine matches.
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