Malta at a World Cup? "Never say never!"

4 Oct 2021
  • Malta record their third-ever World Cup qualifying win

  • Interview with two-goal hero Cain Attard and coach Devis Mangia

  • "Constant improvements can take us to new heights"

While Malta might be one of the world’s smallest countries, this island state boasts a longer and more illustrious footballing history than many other nations. Founded even before FIFA in 1900, it was accepted as a member of UEFA and FIFA 60 years later.

Since then Malta have competed in every qualifying competition for both the UEFA EUROs and – starting with the 1974 edition – the FIFA World Cup™. They recorded their first two competitive victories in European qualifiers against Greece in 1975 and Iceland in 1982, two nations that went on to play at World Cups.

The island has played host to many memorable qualifying matches since then. West Germany’s star-studded squad were only able to squeeze out a 3-2 win in front of a record crowd just two years after finishing second at the 1982 World Cup. Portugal were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw in 1987, while only a late penalty save enabled England to secure a 2-1 win in a UEFA EURO 2000 warm-up match and save themselves from embarrassment. Last year the Reds finished their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign on a high by beating the Faroe Islands. They soon followed this up by defeating Cyprus 3-0 in September 2021 to record only their third victory in a World Cup qualifier.

Malta Striker Cain Attard (courtesy of Malta Football Association (MFA))

FIFA.com spoke to Cain Attard, who scored twice in that match, and national team coach Devis Mangia.

FIFA.com: Until four weeks ago, Malta had only won two of their previous 105 World Cup qualifying matches – beating Estonia 1-0 in May 1993 and Armenia 1-0 in June 2013. Then came the third win against Cyprus. How did it feel?

Cain Attard: Winning is always a great feeling, but to win a competitive match with your national team is even better. The whole team put in a solid performance, and I think we stuck to the coach’s plan and turned several moments in the match to our advantage. Having the fans back in the stadium after so long also gave us a lift. Devis Mangia: The main feeling after our win against Cyprus was one of satisfaction with the way the team has developed and improved. The collective performance is more important to us than the result, and we were very pleased that the team had another positive game that reflected the progress they have made in recent months.

Malta Striker Cain Attard (courtesy of Malta Football Association (MFA))

Cain, you scored two goals. Was that the best moment in your career so far? Attard: It was a fantastic moment for me, and one that meant a lot to me personally too. I’m not a player who scores many goals, so it was particularly special for me to score a brace in such an important match. It’s definitely one of the best moments of my career so far, and I hope there’ll be many more like it.

Malta were ranked 171st (+6) in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for September, their best position in years. Are Malta reaching a new level? Attard: This team always tries to achieve positive results no matter who we are playing, and that will help us to improve our ranking. That’s why I think it’s very possible that we can continue our rise in the standings. But it’s a gradual process, and our aim is to keep growing. Constant improvements can take us to new heights.

Mangia: We’re understandably pleased that Malta have improved their position in the FIFA rankings, but that’s just one confirmation that we are heading in the right direction. It would be wrong of us to stop and think that we’ve achieved something, as we still have a long road ahead of us. We need to see it as another step in the team’s development and keep working together to improve even further.

What are your aims for the upcoming matches? Attard: We always go out onto the pitch to win the match. We know our opponents, and we’ll analyse them when the squad come together for international duty. In any case, they will be two difficult games against Slovenia at home and Cyprus away, but with the right attitude and mentality, we have a good chance of getting positive results from our matches in October.

Mangia: Our main aim is to back up and build on the positive things we’ve achieved so far. We need to have the right mentality on the day, as that’s essential if we are to keep improving. Our philosophy is that the result reflects our performance on the pitch, and our work in training is focused on preparing the players for realising their maximum individual and collective potential on match day.

Do you think Malta will play at a EUROs or World Cup one day? Attard: Nobody knows what will happen in the future, but I think that if Maltese football consistently develops and makes progress in all areas, then we’ll get the opportunity to qualify for a major tournament. It might be in the near future or many years from now, but anything is possible.

Mangia: Never say never! We know it’s a big challenge but in football, as in life, you always need to work hard and set your sights higher. That’s my philosophy, and it is at the heart of our work with the national teams, the coaching setup and Maltese football as a whole.

Cain, your coach has been in his role since 2019. Can you describe him briefly for us? Attard: As soon as he took over, he immediately focused on how he wanted the team to play, and our performances clearly show that the players have adapted to his style. It’s always great to see a team play out from the back and attack – and that’s a totally new approach for Malta. I think the football we’re playing now is much more exciting and entertaining for both the players and the whole country when they watch our team play. In what areas can Maltese football improve? Mangia: As a team we can improve in every area of the game. Everyone has to support the Malta Football Association’s vision and help to make it a reality to ensure that Malta can continue to develop as a footballing nation. We need to understand that all the components – the national team players, coaching staff, officials and clubs – must play their role together with the authorities, the government. After all, the only way to raise our game in all areas is for everyone to work together towards a common goal.

Malta Coach Devis Mangia (courtesy of Malta Football Association (MFA))