Malta has a long and enthralling history, so it’s perhaps unsurprising the island nation has one of the world’s oldest football associations. The Maltese national side has been playing since the late 1950s, although it hasn’t always been easy to compete against the nearby giants of global football with substantially larger populations.
The Birth of the MFA and the National Maltese Football Team
The Malta Football Association (MFA) was founded over a century ago, in 1900, but another 59 years passed before it was officially affiliated with FIFA. A couple of years earlier, in 1957, the island nation had its side play a first match. The friendly against Austria was lost 2-3, but with it, Malta burst onto the international scene. In 2017 the 60th anniversary of this first match was celebrated, with mementos and gifts being presented to the veteran players who competed in Malta’s first international.
At its founding, the Malta Football Association was the first sports organisation on the islands of Malta, as well as being one of the oldest football associations in the world. (Naturally, England, football’s home, has the oldest FA, dating back to 1863). Football was introduced to Malta by British servicemen, with the first recorded match being on 4 March 1882 between garrison soldiers and engineers. This fostered an interest, leading to the creation of Maltese teams that played against one another, and the British. The first national league in Malta was played all the way back in 1909-10. Today, it has 54 clubs under its aegis, and 10 member associations, including the Gozo Football Association.
This early friendliness with the British continued, and Maltese support for England (playing against Italy) led the FA to donate a trophy to the MFA, which remains (as the FA Trophy) one of Malta’s most important competitions.
In 1959 the MFA joined FIFA, and, a year later, UEFA, enabling the newly formed Maltese national side to participate at the international level on a regular basis. Despite this long history, however, the team has yet to reach the finals of a major international tournament.
Two decades later, in 1979, British armed forces left Malta. They also left the nation a number of football playing sites that had been well-used by the British, and many of these were transformed into full-fledged facilities by the Maltese.
More recently, the MFA has supported women’s football, which, although still relatively new, is only increasing in popularity. At the same time, the Youth Association helps to encourage younger players and foster the next generation.
Some of Malta’s most impressive results have been beating the Canadians on multiple occasions, despite Canada having about seventy times as many people. However, Canadians do have some great online betting opportunities (ironically, many sites are registered in Malta, which along with Gibraltar and the UK is a major international centre for betting). The rise of online casinos means that gamblers have a plethora of sites to visit and are a great diversion for players in Malta and also for Canadian players.
The Maltese National Team
After the initial narrow defeat to Austria in 1957, Malta soon joined FIFA and UEFA and played an increasing number of international games. They won their second match, beating Denmark 3-0 in 1958, and went unbeaten until 1961, when they lost to Italy.
A tough period followed, during which Malta beat Libya twice but otherwise failed to win for quite some time. The rising popularity and professional nature of football coupled with Malta’s relatively small population meant that the side struggled to compete against substantially larger European nations. This difficulty meant that, despite claiming draws and snatching the occasional victory, Malta was never able to break through to the finals stage of a European Championship or World Cup tournament.
Current State of Play
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina
Sadly, it must be said that the current qualifying campaign for the 2020 European Championship is looking rather bleak. With the exception of an initial win over the Faroe Islands, Malta has lost every game so far. In the team’s defence, matches against Spain and Sweden were always going to be very tough for any side, but a second match against the Faroes saw Malta lose to the island minnows (who have just 50,000 or so citizens).
On a more positive note, there have been some better years. In 2012, Malta won more than half their internationals, defeating fellow European sides Liechtenstein (twice), San Marino, and Luxembourg.
Right now, the 2020 European qualifiers are officially ongoing, but Malta won’t be qualifying through the group stage. Group F is topped by Spain, followed by Sweden, with the Faroe Islands and Malta languishing at the bottom of the group. Malta’s next matches are against Spain and Norway at the time of writing, and the clash with the Iberian side is likely to be a gruelling encounter for Malta, who will be playing in Spain. Alas, it seems that Malta’s long wait to reach the finals of a major international tournament is destined to be a little longer yet.
What the Future Holds
For Malta’s football team, a key goal is to finally reach the finals of either the World Cup, or the European Championship. This is easier said than done for a nation with roughly half a million people facing up to footballing powerhouses like Spain, Portugal, France, and Germany (to name but a few).
Going back to 2015, the team’s managed just three wins (a friendly against Lithuania, a friendly against Ukraine, and a Euro 2020 qualifier against the Faroe Islands). Recent losses against Sweden and the Faroe Islands has seen the team drop three places in the FIFA rankings, down to 182nd.
It may always be difficult for Malta to compete against the larger nations of Europe. But with the Baltic tigers of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and even smaller nations such as Liechtenstein and San Marino, an improvement in performance could suddenly make qualification for the European Championship or World Cup a real possibility.