A concerted focus on developing women’s football has been a theme for many national football associations across the world over recent years. It is development that has been both welcome and admirable.
Few countries, at least on a pro-rata basis, outstrip Malta for their determination to grow the female side of the game. The tiny ancient nation, positioned at the base of Italy’s boot in the Mediterranean Sea, will always be limited to some degree by size and population. But that hasn’t hindered the resolve of the Malta Football Association (MFA), who have managed to replicate that global growth in women’s football across all levels of their game.
Women’s football has only been active in Malta for 20 years, while the national team is little more than a decade old. It is thus a game very much in its infancy, yet in relative terms, growth has come at warp speed.
The MFA conduct nationwide promotional campaigns to raise awareness and maintain a positive image of women’s football. They have been rewarded with significant annual increases in participation levels, totalling 20-fold growth over the past two decades.
The MFA have also hosted several FIFA courses over the past couple of years, including the ever-popular Live Your Goals programme, which focuses on engagement with younger female players. There have also been FIFA courses for women’s coaches to help inspire and teach women’s football coaches. Malta even boasts an elite academy for young female players catering for numerous age groups.
Eight years after their first international, Malta won its first competition match with victory over Georgia in 2011. Wins during FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ qualifying over Latvia and Luxembourg, the latter a record 6-0 victory, further demonstrated the national team’s growth.
Malta veteran Dorianne Theuma – the team’s most capped player – is a tangible positive influence in her role as national Under-15 coach. Further afield, Malta midfielder Rachel Cuschieri is something of a poster-girl for the new generation. Cuschieri joined ambitious Cyprus club Apollon Limassol in 2014, thus becoming the first female footballer to leave Malta’s sun-kissed shores and professionally at an overseas club.
“There has be a lot of improvement for Maltese women’s football in recent years, especially with the help of FIFA and the various tournaments and programmes such as Live Your Goals, which all helps woman’s football move forward,” Cuschieri told FIFA.com.
Though only 23, Cuschieri boasts nearly a decade of experience at senior level, making her well placed to judge recent developments for Maltese women’s football. “It has drastically improved, especially with local teams and the national teams competing against stronger foreign teams,” Cuschieri said. “This only helps to improve our game play as Malta wants to be competitive.”
Cuschieri is enjoying life at the dominant Cypriot side, a club who have now won eight successive national league titles. She has pitted wits against the likes of Danish super club Brondby, and played alongside England star Lianne Sanderson and USA international Yael Averbuch to name a few. Life as a waitress in her homeland is now very much a distant memory for Cuschieri.
The attacking midfielder, who says she likes of idea of being a role-model for fellow female Maltese players wishing to play overseas, believes the national team will continue to grow with each passing year. “From every challenge, there is always positives to take away,” she said. “This is what keeps any player improving in their career, as it is never late to learn new things.”