Six steps forward for Malta

Photo : www.fifa.com
www.fifa.com|21-Nov-2020 12:33

-Malta the most-improved side in last edition of FIFA Ranking
-The Knights moved from 186th to 180th place
-We look at six stats behind their rise of six places

"As long as my body allows me to play, I’ll continue. The motivation will always be there" The words are those of Michael Mifsud from September 2013. At the time, the striker had just made history by scoring the decisive goal in Malta's first away win, against Armenia, in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier.

Seven years later, Mifsud was again on the scoresheet, but for the last time in red and white after calling time on his international career at the age of 39. The goal – his 42nd in 143 appearances, both of which are Maltese records – came in the fifth minute of his side’s 3-0 friendly win over Liechtenstein on 11 November. The victory formed part of Malta’s best-ever unbeaten run, which now stands at seven games.

Malta were also the most-improved side in the last edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. We mark their ascent of six places with six team stats.

1 The number of senior national teams Italian head coach Devis Mangia has been in charge of. At the Malta helm since December 2019, Mangia had something of a baptism of fire, having mainly coached in Italy (Palermo, Spezia, Bari, Ascoli and the Italy U-21 team) previously. However, in less than a year, the new incumbent has instilled a winning culture into a team that historically struggled to string together good results.

2 The number of consecutive wins – against Latvia (1-0) and Andorra (3-1) – recorded by Malta in the last five weeks in the UEFA Nations League. Never before had the Knights managed to string together back-to-back wins in competitive fixtures.

3 Nor had they ever scored as many goals (3) in a competitive game, although it should be noted that their Nations League victory against Andorra came just three days after the team’s 3-0 friendly win over Liechtenstein.

Did you know?
Malta may be one of the smallest countries in the world, but the island has a long footballing tradition. The Maltese Football Association (MFA) was created in 1900, even before the foundation of FIFA, and is celebrating its 120thanniversary this year.

4 The number of consecutive games, between 7 October and 11 November, during which Malta did not concede a goal. Critical to this unprecedented sequence was Justin Haber's long-time understudy, Henry Bonello. The new Malta No.1 previously distinguished himself by saving a penalty against Faroe Islands (2-1) in March 2019, helping to secure Malta's first home win in competition for 13 years.

5 Of the 51 Maltese players called up in the last 12 months, only five play outside of Malta: midfielder Teddy Teuma (Union SG, Belgian second division), striker Luke Gambin (Colchester United, English third division), goalkeeper Rashed Al-Tumi (Arzachena, Italian fourth division), Zach Muscatt (S.C. Olhanense, Portuguese third division) and Joe Muscatt (Paderborn, German second division).

6 The minutes of added time played when Steve Borg scored the winner against Latvia on 13 October. The defender’s strike gave Malta their first away victory in a competitive fixture since winning away to Armenia in the qualifiers for Brazil 2014 seven years earlier.