The Malta women's team have been making impressive progress in recent years but their first game in top-level qualifying against Spain last month proved a rude awakening, and they now face an even tougher fixture in England.
FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying, for the first time in more than a decade in senior European competition, features no preliminary round or two-tier system, and Malta's opening Group 5 fixture ended in a 13-0 home defeat by Spain. On Sunday they will be in Blackpool to play England in the hosts' first match since losing the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ final to Germany – an immense task according to Malta coach Pierre Brincat.
"I am working on a more defensive system in order to try and control these brilliant England players the best way we can," Brincat told uefa.com. "After England, we have Austria at home, which is another difficult match. I am also trying to raise morale among my players, which I can say is at a very low ebb after the Spain game. I really hope that all the hard work and preparations we have put in recent years will not fade away in this very difficult phase of this completion." Still, Brincat's side have gained strength from winning games at mini-tournaments organised for sides eliminated in the European preliminary round in recent times. "The UEFA mini-tournaments were absolutely of great assistance for us," he said.
His team also received backing from the chairman of the Maltese Football Association women's football committee, Ludovico Micallef. "Coming so soon after the heavy defeat against Spain, the away game against England was obviously the last thing we wanted," he said. "Everyone knows the strength of the England team and the difference in class between the English team and the Maltese team. However, I am confident that the girls have the ability to bounce back and obtain a satisfactory result, thereby erasing somewhat the disappointment of the game against Spain."
Certainly, England left-back Casey Stoney is taking Malta seriously. "People are saying it will come down to Spain and us but it would be folly to overlook Malta, Turkey or Austria," she said. "Malta are relatively unknown to us, we've never played them before so we have to be fully focused and ensure we get the job done. We can then look to Turkey in November. Our aim is to have six points going into 2010 and we won't be taking any teams lightly."