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A 'football-crazy island' opens its arms

Handed the honour of taking Malta into their first major finals at any level, Under-17s coach Sergio Soldano believes the "football-crazy island" can impress in May.

Malta Under-17s coach Sergio Soldano
Malta Under-17s coach Sergio Soldano ©Domenic Aquilina

The UEFA European Under-17 Championship from 9 May will not only be Malta's debut hosting a UEFA tournament – their sqad will also be the first to represent their nation at any finals.

The man given the honour of leading Malta into their maiden campaign will be 53-year-old Sergio Soldano, who spoke to UEFA.com about Group A opponents England, the Netherlands and Turkey, objectives for the tournament and a "football-crazy island".

UEFA.com: Are you pleased with the group's preparation over the past two years?

Sergio Soldano: Yes, I am very satisfied because all the boys have worked hard, with big sacrifices involved considering their school studies. Many of these young footballers will be undergoing their final exams during the tournament itself. Education comes first, then football.

UEFA.com: Malta have been drawn in a very tough group – how will your boys cope with opponents like England and the Netherlands?

Soldano: All of Malta and everyone in Europe knows the limits of this football-crazy island. We will look to make the most of everything we have learned over the past two years. If our opponents are the best at the end of the match, we will shake their hands as a sign of respect and fair play. However, before we do this I am sure we will give our opponents a hard time. We know how England and the Netherlands play – now it's time to see Malta, because we can play good football too.

UEFA.com: Who starts the tournament as favourites?

Soldano: It's very difficult to pick out one team. I have heard good things about Scotland but in my view Germany will be the team to beat. In football you have to come up against many different philosophies. This is why the team who have the best organisation, quality and luck will end up as winners.

UEFA.com: What are your strengths and where do you think your team need to improve?

Soldano: We have been working on defence, midfield and attack on an individual basis. At the moment our midfield is our strongest asset, and we must keep working on our defence, paying particular attention to our organisation.

The National Stadium will host Malta v England
The National Stadium will host Malta v England©Domenic Aquilina

UEFA.com: Malta start against mighty England – what do you think about this for a debut in the competition?

Soldano: It's a very important match which will bring together two different styles of football. It is all about how you interpret the game of football; the simpler the better. We know that the English are physically powerful and that their philosophy is to attack and look for the aerial and physical duels.

UEFA.com: What are your objectives?

Soldano: This tournament will be a very good test for my boys and the Malta Football Association (MFA), especially our organisation skills. Maybe they will not have a similar experience again, which is why we have to show Europe that Malta play good football and can organise an event of this size. I will always remain grateful for the chance that the MFA have offered me to work in such wonderful conditions and facilities.