Greater chance for Malta at the next World Cup?

It may come as no surprise that Malta will not be among the 32 nations taking part in the World Cup Finals…but it hasn’t always been this way. Who knows? The winter of 2022 might just be our moment in the Qatari sunshine

As the 2018 World Cup Finals loom large in Russia next month, it may come as no surprise that Malta will not be among the 32 nations taking part. With just one draw and nine defeats from our ten qualifying games, the national side took its customary place at the foot of UEFA Group F. The closest we have come to the World Cup this year was when the trophy visited the island on its grand tour. But it hasn’t always been this way.

photo by unknown, CC BY –SA 2.5
photo by unknown, CC BY –SA 2.5

Malta began life on the international stage with some style, running Austria close in a 2-3 defeat in 1957. Over the years we have fought for draws against some of the biggest names in the game, including Greece, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Even more impressively, we have a 100% record against one of the top teams in this year’s tournament: Belgium. Drawn in Group G with England, Belgium are just 10-1 to lift the trophy, yet they have never beaten the mighty Malta.

Since entering the World Cup in 1974, Malta have a record of just two wins and ten draws in 102 games, giving us a loss percentage of 88%. Victories against Armenia in 2013 and Estonia in 1993 mark our only successes.

However, on the world stage, Malta has been rather more successful, with 46 wins out of 376 games (12.23%), as well as 62 draws, which put the loss percentage at a much more palatable 71%. We’ve even had our day in the sun with a national record 7-1 win over Liechtenstein in 2008.

photo by FIFA.com, public domain
photo by FIFA.com, public domain

The World Cup Finals began with just 13 teams in Uruguay in 1930; it remained at 16 until Spain 1982, when it rose to 24, followed by a rise to 32 teams at France 1998. However, FIFA has confirmed a further increase to 48 teams in 2026 and is pushing to get that number agreed to, in time for Qatar in 2022.

This might not seem to make much difference to a team ranked 185th in the world, but Malta have risen to as high as 66th in the past, which would put them within reach of a 48-team tournament. What’s more, just like Belgium, Malta has a 100% record against Qatar, where the next World Cup will be held.

photo by Chivista, CC BY-SA 4.0
photo by Chivista, CC BY-SA 4.0

Hosting the World Cup would bring automatic qualification (as it has for lowly Qatar in 2022), but it is unlikely to ever come to our shores, despite the welcome the tournament would undoubtedly receive and the experience the island has had with major international events. The European Poker Tour, the Rolex Middle Sea Race and the famous Mdina Grand Prix (for classic cars) have all taken place in Malta, each attracting a strong international field. But while our coasts and casinos may impress, our football facilities are perhaps not up to World Cup standards, with the national Ta’ Qali stadium holding just under 17,000 fans.

But we can still dream. After all, Malta recorded a run of six games undefeated from November 2001 to May 2002 and hit the heady heights of 66th in the world just a few years before that. And with 48 places to play for, anything is possible with a little good fortune and the run of the ball. Who knows? The winter of 2022 might just be our moment in the Qatari sunshine.

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