Global pandemic and mass cancellations aside, Malta had a very good 2020 as far as football was concerned. Now, the tiny island’s next big challenge awaits, as the reds try to once again qualify for the big one; the World Cup.
Last year, the Maltese national football team played eight games and managed to muster up a very respectable record of four wins, three draws and only one draw. Now, everyone will be hoping this momentum continues into the behemoth challenge of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup when Malta begins its Group H battle on 24th March.
First up is gigantic Russia, and the islands will eventually also play Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Cyprus in Group H.
But what happened the last time we played against these teams?
Well, thanks to MFA’s official records – that go back 410 games and 64 years – we can find out.
Malta only ever played Russia once, in a friendly tournament, all the way back on 7th February 1996.
On that day, Russia had won 2-0.
But a quarter of a century is a very long time, and while Russia currently stands as 39th in FIFA’s Global Rankings, 176th Malta has been through a lot in the last 25 years.
Slovakia and Malta faced each other eight separate times throughout the years.
The first was also back in 1996 when Slovakia dominated in a one-sided 6-0 World Cup Qualification victory.
One year later, Malta lost again, this time with a much smaller margin of 2-0.
Then, it was a 3-0 loss for the islands again in 2006, and a 2014 slim loss of 1-0.
On 26th March 2017, Malta scored the first goal against Slovakia in a World Cup Qualifier that ended in a 3-1 loss. Later that year in October, a follow-up to that ended in a 3-0 loss.
Croatia has often proved itself to be a footballing force to be reckoned with, but the situation isn’t as horribly one-sided as you’d think.
Malta and Croatia also faced each other eight times before. The first was on 10th October 1998, which saw the islands lose 4-1 during a Euro Qualifier. In 1999, a second-round got even closer with Malta only just losing 2-1.
Then, the match-ups returned in 2005 for two World Cup Qualifiers that ended in 3-0 for Croatia and a respectable 1-1 thanks to a defiant Malt’s late freekick.
What followed for Malta were four losses that got progressively less one-sided; 3-0 in 2010, 3-1 in 2011, 2-0 in 2014, and finally 1-0 in 2015.
If that momentum carries on later this year, Croatia had better not underestimate tiny Malta!
Fellow Mediterranean island Cyprus could have its work cut out for it with Malta if previous match-ups are anything to go by.
In the first of six all-time games, Malta won a 1988 friendly with a one-goal showing, drawing 1-1 one month later in another friendly match.
Then, another draw followed in 1989.
In 1992, Cyprus was avenged with a 3-0 win, following it up a decade later with two 2-1 wins in the 2002 Euro Qualifiers.
Nearly a decade later, Team Malta will be out for vengeance… and last year’s noticeable improvement could prove invaluable.
Another six matches mark the history between Malta and Slovenia’s football teams… and it dates back to 12th February 1994.
On that day, Slovenia had just won 1-0, but two years later, Malta had managed to maintain a goalless draw.
Fast forward nearly a whole decade, and Slovenia dominated 3-0 and 3-1 in two Euro Qualifiers match-ups in 2002 and 2003.
The next time the two teams would face each other wouldn’t be for another decade and a half, with Slovenia coming out on top in 2016 and 2017 thanks to a 1-0 and a 2-0 win at that year’s World Cup Qualifiers.
The odds of Malta making it through to the 2022 World Cup might not look that great, but the national football team has made some impressive strides in the last year.
And it’s this momentum that Team Malta hopes it can take with it to these latest rounds of challenges.
Meanwhile, the women’s national football team is in a similar situation, facing some very stiff competition following a great run last year.
Featured Image Right Photo by Paul Zammit Cutajar / MFA
What do you make of Malta’s chances? Let us know in the comments below