Preparations for the UEFA Euro 2024 tournament set for Germany are already underway as the draws for the qualifiers were made last weekend ahead of the start in March 2023.
As always there are the regular qualification candidates as well as a handful of nations looking to gate-crash the 24-nation party. Then there is a long list of minnow nations who have never qualified for a major tournament, these sides tend to be the whipping boys of the qualifying series.
Depending on data from bookmakers, this article evaluates the chances of one of such nations in Malta.
The Malta national team will face defending champions Italy and finalists England in the 2024 European Championship qualifiers in what promises to be a football bonanza for local fans.
Having missed out on promotion in the UEFA Nations League following a 2-1 defeat to Estonia, Malta are faced with an uphill challenge against arguably the two most popular national teams in the country as well as Ukraine and North Macedonia, in Group C.
Malta FA president Bjorn Vassallo is excited for their qualifying group, and is looking forward to the historical ties against two of the best teams in Europe.
“This is, without doubt, an historic draw for the Maltese national team,”
“The fact that our national team has been drawn to face Italy and England, two teams who enjoy a high pedigree in international football, inevitably provides us with a very tough draw from a sporting aspect.”
A friendly match against Ireland has been scheduled in November ahead of the start of their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign which sees them take on North Macedonia on March 23, before hosting neighbours Italy three days later.
Yet the FA has some unwelcome distractions to sort out before then as the future of head coach Devis Mangia is unresolved after he was suspended for alleged improper conduct against two national team players. His assistant Davide Mazzotta has been placed in caretaker charge.
Malta have appeared in every qualifying series for the EUROs and FIFA World Cup since 1964 and 1974 respectively but have never made it to any major international tournament. Their best performance so far in a qualifying campaign came in the form of a single win (versus Hungary) and two draws (against Moldova and Turkey) from 12 games in the lead-up to EURO 2008 in Austria/Switzerland and once again, a win (over Cyprus) and two draws (against Slovakia and Cyprus) in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
The Knights of Malta have a reputation as one of Europe’s weakest teams but despite their fortunes having increased in recent years, they still do not have enough to get past the mighty England and Italy in qualifying.
Malta’s first competitive meeting with Italy ended in a 2-0 defeat in the 1988 European Championship qualifiers on December 6, 1986, before suffering another 5-0 thrashing in the return leg. They were once again drawn together for the Euro 2016 qualifiers but battled to a pair of respectable 1-0 losses.
On the other hand, Malta have faced the Three Lions only once in the European Championship qualifiers, losing 1-0 and 5-0 in 1971. They were drawn against each other thirty five years later in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers when England asserted their supremacy by winning 2-0 at Wembley Stadium before cruising to a 4-0 win in Malta.
Malta is currently ranked 168th in the world by FIFA but are undoubtedly on the up after recording their first-ever UEFA Nations League win 1–0 against Latvia on October 13, 2020. Malta have won four more times since against Cyprus, Andorra and San Marino (twice) to take them to 11 all-time competitive wins.
Tactical setup and current form
They usually lineup in a solid 3-4-3 shape and have developed a key habit of scoring in the second half as they beat Israel 2-1 last time out in a friendly which was turned around in the final six minutes of the game.
Pertinently, four of Malta’s five wins in 2022 arrived in the home comforts of the Ta’ Qali National Stadium and making their home a fortress is a brilliant way to develop as a team.
Seeing a way past a tough qualifying group is unlikely but for a team such as the Maltese, steady growth as a respected footballing force is a step-by-step process.
To oversee an unprecedented qualification, Malta will have to consistently churn out results in the qualifying group as well as their Nations League engagements to stand a chance.
Doing so might just make it 17th time lucky for the Reds in European Championship finals.