On Saturday Malta faces Iceland in a competitive tie connected with the World Cup 2006 qualifying rounds, but after the seven-nil thrashing by impressive Sweden, one hardly expects an exceptional crowd at Ta’ Qali. Admittedly the three Gudjonssons or the three Sigurdssons and the rest of the visiting side do not have that crowd-pulling appeal for the locals that Zoltan Ibrahimovic of Juventus, Fredrik Ljumberg of Arsenal, or Henrik Larsson of Barcelona did.
But that may not be the sole reason, for deserted stands.
The national side hardly possesses the desired credentials to attract, with only a single victory and a few drawn matches in more than sixty outings spread over 33 years. The disappointments have been many and regular with the rare encouraging performance hardly enough to instil a sense of patriotism or enthusiastic support.
This, after all is a great pity. The National team belongs to all of us. That is why we should feel all shamed and responsible.
The President of the Malta Football Association the members of the technical Board, the entire council, national coach, his assistant, selected players, obviously the members of the sporting media and all Maltese football followers can hardly be spared from this indictment. We do not expect to beat the European giants, but we certainly deserve something much better.
During the last twenty years the Malta Football Association engaged six foreign coaches and one Maltese. When Siegfried Held’s contract was not renewed at the end of the Euro 2004 qualifying matches, many were those who opted for a Maltese to take the job, though ability, knowledge, proven record and not nationality are the main criteria when such appointments are made. The MFA somewhat diplomatically reappointed Horst Heese, 61, who was in charge in 1988-91, to be assisted by the former international Carmel Busuttil who earned 113 caps for Malta, but who has a rather limited experience in coaching at top levels. This tandem has been working together for twelve months now!
Their selections and tactics have rightly or wrongly been harshly criticised, even by those who hardly know how to win at dominoes or snakes and ladders but who are always ready to sound as experts in the art of coaching football.
It is not difficult to point to a million reasons why our national side is at rock bottom. While not forgetting our limitations in numbers we should look at other minnows who managed to improve their football and national team results.
The side is weak, shorn of stars and does not have a leader. At times one gets the impression that several players lack real commitment. It is an honour to represent one’s country. Our players do not always show pride at wearing the national colours.
Not surprisingly changes will be made to the side that suffered a hammering against the vastly superior Swedes, in a match where the Maltese players looked as if they had no semblance of play.
Hibs’ goalkeeper Mario Muscat, who has played 57 times for Malta has been axed but players like Chucks Nwoko, Etienne Barbara and Daniel Bogdanovic who are not inferior to most of those on the list, have not been called. Perhaps Heese/Busuttil have their own valid reasons.
The players hardly admit their limitations and their regular silly errors. Blaming tactics is an easy way out. Improvisation in difficult moments is never shown. The media should avoid using all the superlatives they tend to when reporting league matches, which are generally a bore, played at a very slow pace, with two sets of mediocre sides engaged in a comedy of errors. Somehow the press gives a totally different impression: as if they had watched a different match.
The present composition and style of competition of the Premier League should be discarded. It is illogical for Maltese football to have a championship with ten teams.
Most clubs seem to favour this system. It will be interesting to learn what advantages they see and how it helps our football and the national team.
While other small nations move on, we seem totally satisfied by drawing against Israel in the last competitive match of the Euro 2004 qualifiers! Or build our hopes because on the performance against the Faro Islands(2-3).
Win over Iceland in Messina
Way back in 1982 we defeated Iceland 2-1 in Messina in a match connected with the European championships. It was played at the Stadio Giuseppe Celeste in Sicily because the Gzira Stadium was banned because of disciplinary measures taken by the hierarchy after a World Cup qualifier (vs Poland) was abandoned thirteen minutes from time. Disgustingly enough, Malta features prominently in the chapter connected with violent behaviour found in the annals of the World Cup competition. Since then,
Iceland with a population of less than 300,000 has made a lot of headway. A high number of Icelandic players are engaged with foreign clubs, mostly in England, Norway and Belgium. During the EURO 2004 qualifying matches they clinched 13 points, though last month they were beaten at home by Bulgaria 1-3 and away by Hungary 2-3.
A determined collective effort by the Maltese side will please us no end.