The Malta women’s national team return to action for their maiden appearance in 2021 as they host Slovakia in their opening VisitMalta Women’s Trophy opener on Thursday, at the Hibernians Stadium (kick-off: 3pm).
This will be the first match for Mark Gatt’s side since their double-win over Georgia and Israel late last year which sealed Malta’s record-breaking 10 point qualifying campaign for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.
Although Gatt doesn’t have a full squad available due to several injuries which have hampered his preparations, he is pleased with his team’s commitment ahead of the Slovakia clash.
“Facing Slovakia is more than a simple game – it’s a challenge,” Gatt said. “We will be taking this game as a challenge to measure ourselves against a team that is in Pot 3. At the same time, it will be an opportunity to give more playing time to more players, including the new members who have joined us for this camp.”
The first edition of this tournament will serve Malta as preparation for the upcoming 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers which will kick off in September. Slovakia are one of the teams Malta could face in the qualifiers, hence Gatt is eager to test the progress of his squad against the 45th-ranked team.
“It is important that our team remains united in the upcoming games because the level of difficulty will be very high and we need to pay attention to every detail,” the Malta coach said. “At the same time, it will be an opportunity to grow our game as we seek further progress and try to learn from these high-profile matches.”
Gatt, whose contact as Malta women’s coach has been renewed, is keen to sustain his team’s improvement.
“We have to resume our good work and my contract renewal means that the Association is pleased with the team’s development as well,” Gatt underlined.
“It gives us further encouragement because it means that we are heading in the right direction and we want to reap the benefits of the hard work we have done in recent years.”
SOURCE OF PRIDE
Meanwhile, this tournament will also be the first international commitment at senior level for Dionne Tonna, who is the new assistant coach of the women’s senior team.
“The national team has always been a source of pride for me, both as a player and as a coach,” Tonna explained. “To be part of this set-up, is very important for me to keep growing in my role.”
This will not be the international experience for Tonna as the former Hibernians player was at the helm of the U-16 and U-17 girls teams during the Development Tournament.
“Obviously, there is a significant difference between youth and senior level,” Tonna highlighted. “But one thing I always try to bring to the dressing room is encouragement and positivity – the players always appreciate people who encourage them and I, together with my staff, always want to bring such harmony into this team.
For Tonna, the Slovakia game at the Hibernians Stadium will revive memories of a game she played at the same venue around 15 years ago. Back in 2006, Tonna represented the national team in a qualifying match against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“I remember that match, played over a decade ago, very clearly,” Tonna said. “The players will enjoy their chance to play on such a nice pitch and I am looking forward to seeing what this experience will bring for them.”
Photo and source: MFA