In a few hours, Malta will face the Faroe Islands in Tórshavn in the highly-anticipated opening round of the UEFA Nations League tournament.
The matchup is pivotal in setting the tone for Maltese football in more ways than one.
Tonight marks the first time the national team takes to the field under the guidance of newly-appointed head coach Devis Mangia. It’s also the first time Malta will take the field at all this year as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic…
and things couldn’t look more different or strange.
Lovin Malta spoke to the national team’s doctor, Dr Daniel McKean, to get a better understanding of the preparations and precautions that have gone into tonight’s crucial game.
“Everyone is staying in individual rooms and even team meetings are being held taking into account social distancing and the use of masks. This is all to ensure that there are no close contacts within the contingent,” McKean told Lovin Malta.
“The now normal measures will be in effect throughout and we have tried to address even the smallest details right down to the seating arrangements for the aircraft to make sure this is implemented as easily and smoothly as possible.”
“Luckily, most of our players and staff are already used to the health measures we introduced when we completed a return-to-activity training camp at the end of July.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malta Football Association has introduced a set of heightened medical protocols for national and domestic teams, which include regular testing, stadium zoning, limited use of dressing rooms, matches behind closed doors, social distancing and use of masks at all times except when playing.
“At the national team level, we use GPS data and film the sessions to aid performance and help prevent injury but these can also be used as evidence that the protocols were followed,” McKean said.
They’ve also introduced a new role in football, a COVID-19 liaison officer.
“The liaison officer is a key contact person for each club to be able to keep the MFA and UEFA updated on their current medical situation. The role does not need to be fulfilled by a doctor or other health professional, as the role itself is intended to merely facilitate good communication.”
“Something which we have learned from implementing the UEFA protocols at the national team level is that communication is essential for the successful realisation of a domestic protocol and that the clubs must have ownership of their own responsibility in its execution,” McKean said.
While the MFA is keeping a close eye on the developments in domestic football, performing on an international circuit comes with more scrutiny.
“Players and staff must be tested within three days of the game, and if this game is away from home, prior to departure too. This means that in our case we were tested on the day before departure for the Faroe Islands and will return to Malta two days before the game versus Latvia,” McKean continued.
“This, in addition to a precautionary test held prior to the call-up, as well as the one mandated by the Faroese authorities upon arrival.”
Despite the strictest of procedures in place, there is no guarantee that someone won’t get infected with the coronavirus, and the MFA has to prepare for the worst.
“In the case that someone does test positive after landing in the Faroe Islands local law must be followed,” McKean said.
“Luckily, there is a precedent for this where a team was told to either quarantine in the Faroe Islands or fly directly back to Slovakia. The outcome of the game was decided by UEFA’s disciplinary committee.”
Malta is just hours away from seeking revenge on the equally-matched Faroe Islands tonight. While the team prepares for the task ahead, its medical staff has worked, and continues to work, tirelessly to ensure that they win the fight against the pandemic.
Malta’s national team will make its 2020 debut tonight against the Faroe Islands at 8.45pm.
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