Both beaten in their opening game of Euro 2024 qualifying, Malta and reigning European champions Italy meet in Ta’Qali on Sunday. While the hosts lost 2-1 to the Italians’ World Cup playoff nemesis North Macedonia, their neighbours suffered a home defeat to Group C favourites England.
In response to an underwhelming display from his starting XI in midweek, Roberto Mancini is set to make several changes to Italy’s lineup on Sunday.
The loss of Ciro Immobile, Giacomo Raspadori and Federico Chiesa to injury leaves Mateo Retegui in prime position to hold off the claims of Gianluca Scamacca up front, but Wilfried Gnonto may start after making a brief cameo in Campania. Freiburg’s set-piece specialist Vincenzo Grifo was among those excluded from Thursday’s squad entirely but should expect to feature in Ta’Qali.
In addition to the attacking talent unavailable to Mancini, Inter pair Alessandro Bastoni and Federico Dimarco are sidelined, while both Nicolo Barella and Leonardo Bonucci have now returned to their respective clubs due to injury.
Malta, meanwhile, saw their own new boy Yannick Yankam score on his first international appearance earlier this week, and the Birkirkara midfielder will hope to be promoted to the starting side against Italy.
Yankam’s clubmate Enrico Pepe joins Valletta’s Triston Caruana in missing out through injury, but the Falcons came through Tuesday’s game relatively unscathed.
After Michele Marcolini named an attacking 3-4-1-2 formation against North Macedonia, with Union Saint-Gilloise star Teddy Teuma supporting a two-man strike force of Alexander Satariano and Paul Mbong, the hosts may be more inclined to pick an extra midfielder on Sunday.
Malta possible starting lineup:
Bonello; Attard, S. Borg, Apap; J. Mbong, Kristensen, Guillaumier, Yankam, Camenzuli; Teuma; Satariano
Italy possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Scalvini, Romagnoli, Spinazzola; Cristante, Verratti, Tonali; Politano, Retegui, Gnonto
Prediction: Malta 0-2 Italy
Italy were unimpressive as an attacking force in their Euro qualifying opener, but a number of fringe players – such as Gnonto, Grifo and Politano – could now come to the fore against less demanding opponents. Malta may have shown signs of improvement, but denying the Azzurri victory this weekend is a feat beyond their wildest dreams.