Northern Ireland U19s play the first of two friendlies against Malta’s U19s tonight as part of preparations for Euro qualifiers later this year.
The two sides face each other again on Friday 10 June. Both games are due to be staged at the Malta Football Association training complex in Ta’ Qali, with kick-off at 20.30 local time (19.30 UK time).
They are two important games for us against Malta and two games we’re really looking forward to
We spoke to boss Gerard Lyttle who gave us his thoughts ahead of the double-header.
“This is our last camp before we go to the qualification rounds in September in the Netherlands. They are two important games for us against Malta and two games we’re really looking forward to,” he said.
“This international window in June is difficult some players have stopped playing for a few weeks and some have had a longer season so we’re trying to manage that in terms of their training loads.
“We met up on Sunday in Belfast and we had a double session and the boys hit the ground running. Standards were set quickly and we have a really good group here that understand what’s needed in terms of trying to be successful.
“We’ll approach the games with a mindset that we want to win. Evening kick-offs mean it won’t be too warm in terms of temperatures, so we’ll be able to implement our style in terms of how we want to press and win the ball high up the pitch.
“We’ve had a few pullouts for the due to exams and Brodie Spencer has been called up to the senior squad which is unbelievable for all of us. It means we’re doing our job well.
“Shea Charles, who has featured against Greece and started against Cyprus, was with the 19s last year and is another unbelievable talent coming through. It’s amazing that we have a senior boss who is not afraid to throw them in.”
He added: “Everything we’re doing is geared towards the end of the year and qualifying and hopefully we’ll go in and hit the ground running.”
The 2022-23 UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifying round runs from 21 to 27 September and 16 to 23 November, with 13 groups beginning the road to the eight-team finals in Malta next year.
Northern Ireland have been drawn in Group 13 along with Netherlands (hosts), Slovenia and Moldova. Their games in the qualifying round are scheduled to be staged from 21 to 27 September.
The top two teams in each of the 13 groups will join top seeds Portugal in the spring 2023 elite round along with the third-placed team with the best record against the top two in their section. From there seven teams will join hosts Malta at the finals in summer 2023.