Malta was drawn with Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia and Cyprus in Group H in the preliminary draw for the FIFA World Cup 2022 which was held on Monday in Zurich.
This was certainly a tough draw for Malta, considering that there were far better options among the teams in Pot 5 and Pot 4.
Cyprus are ranked 100th, Slovenia 62nd, Russia 39th, Slovakia 33rd and Croatia 11th. Malta is currently 176th.
Malta and Croatia met eight times with Malta obtaining a 1-1 draw at Ta’ Qali in the World Cup qualifiers in September 2005.
Slovakia and Malta met eight times – four friendlies and four World Cup qualifiers with the only positive result for Malta being a 1-1 draw in a friendly match away from home in 1994.
Malta and Russia met only once in the Malta International Tournament in 1996 with Russia winning 2-0.
This will be the seventh clash between Malta and Slovenia after two matches from the Malta International Tournament, two EURO qualifiers and two World Cup qualifiers. The only positive result for Malta was a goalless draw in the February 1996 tournament.
The record against Cyprus is a win, two draws and three defeats. Malta had defeated Cyprus 1-0 in a friendly match in 1988 away from home and then managed two draws in two friendly matches – 1-1 at home in 1988 and 0-0 away from home in 1989. Malta lost the other friendly match in Cyprus in 1992. The two EURO 2004 qualifiers ended in 2-1 wins for Cyprus.
The groups are as follows:
Group A: Portugal, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
Group B: Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo
Group C: Italy, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Lithuania
Group D: France, Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kazakhstan
Group E: Belgium, Wales, Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia
Group F: Denmark, Austria, Scotland, Israel, Faroe Islands, Moldova
Group G: Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia, Gibraltar
Group H: Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta
Group I: England, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra, San Marino
Group J: Germany, Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein
All teams within each group will play each other twice in a home-and-away format between March and November 2021.
Matchday 1: 24–25 March 2021
Matchday 2: 27–28 March 2021
Matchday 3: 30–31 March 2021
Matchday 4: 1–2 September 2021
Matchday 5: 4–5 September 2021
Matchday 6: 7–8 September 2021
Matchday 7: 8–9 October 2021
Matchday 8: 11–12 October 2021
Matchday 9: 11–13 November 2021
Matchday 10: 14–16 November 2021
The ten group winners will qualify directly for Qatar 2022, with the ten runners-up advancing to the play-offs.
Besides the ten runners-up from the group stage, the play-offs will also include the two best group winners from the UEFA Nations League 2020-2021 overall ranking that did not qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and did not enter the play-offs as runners-up. The 12 teams will be split into three play-off paths, which will feature single-leg knockout matches in March 2022 to determine the last three European nations to book a place in Qatar.