UEFA Nations League: What is the way forward for Malta?

Ahead of the match between Malta and Azerbaijan, we go through some of the criticism that the Maltese national team is faced with.

Michael Mifsud during the Match against Faroe Islands. Photo: Paul Zammit Cutajar / MFA
Michael Mifsud during the Match against Faroe Islands. Photo: Paul Zammit Cutajar / MFA

The Maltese national team has been the target of heavy pressure as Malta has dropped to a record low 184th position in the FIFA World Rankings. The only European country behind us is Gibraltar. This has led to a number of sports followers to question the work done by the Malta Football Association, the money spent on football, the commitment of the players as well as various other issues.

During the previous World Cup qualifying campaign, Malta obtained just one point against Lithuania. In addition, the Maltese team managed just three goals, but conceded twenty-five. However, many acknowledged that playing against strong sides such as England and Slovakia leave the Maltese with very limited chances of gaining a result.

Following this campaign, UEFA introduced the Nations League in which teams are paired together according to the FIFA World Rankings. Due to this, there were a lot positive vibes that Malta could win some points. However, on Friday, Malta lacked the ability to at least hold Faroe Islands who are a country that has a population of less than 50,000 people.

There are many reasons for this which sports enthusiasts are discussing. First of all, it is evident that the Maltese Premier League is a very poor league. The vast majority of the Maltese squad plays inside Malta and lack the experience which a player can gain from playing in a top league abroad. In fact, the only two foreign based players are Zach Muscat who plays for Pistoiese in Italy’s Serie C and Andre Schembri who is going through a positive spell with Apollon Limassol of Cyprus.

The MFA seems to be working on this as a number of youngsters are given the chance to go for a trial abroad every year. Unfortunately, nearly all of them decide to come back to Malta and establish their careers here.

To make it worse, at the moment, seven foreigners are allowed to be included in the starting line-up. This is leading top clubs to invest in these foreigners and thus leave limited space for Maltese players to play in Malta’s top league and develop.

A related problem is that of strikers. Malta’s current team is still dependent on Michael Mifsud to put the ball inside the net. There is no doubt that Mifsud is a quality player; however, it is evident that the team needs more fresh strikers. All Malta’s strikers inside the current squad are over thirty years of age except Jean Paul Farrugia. One can argue that there are emerging strikers such as Kyran Nwoko who already made his debut with the senior team. However, the latter was forced to sit on the bench during Valletta’s opening two matches as new signing Mario Fontanella was preferred.

Another issue which was discussed is the attitude which we are used to it in Malta. There were times when Malta used to suffer heavy defeats against other European sides, though by time, Malta conceded less goals, but still failed to win matches. Despite the defeats, many applauded Maltese players for fighting bravely in order to avoid a heavy defeat which is a wrong attitude as only victories can be celebrated. A defeat is always a defeat. Nations such as Iceland showed that a small nation can still win matches and challenge bigger countries.

Now, the attention turns on Azerbaijan who face Malta on Monday. The latter are ranked 105th and are coming from a goalless draw against Kosovo on Friday.

Playing against such a team on home soil should motivate the Maltese players to bounce back with a good result in the first home match of the UEFA Nations League. Although it could turn out to be a struggle, Maltese players have all the quality to challenge Azerbaijan if they play at their best and avoid individual mistakes.

The game will kick-off at 20:45 and will be played inside the National Stadium.

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