Malta were handed a tough-looking group for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers as the national team was drawn in Group H alongside Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia and Cyprus during a virtual event held in Zurich on Monday.
Devis Mangia, Malta’s head coach, was surely hopeful for a much kinder draw, particularly given that there was the prospect for the team to come up against countries of more or less our calibre in the form of the Faroe Islands and Andorra.
But the draw failed to smile on the national team who was draw against five teams who are all in the top 100 in the latest FIFA world rankings.
Speaking to the media just after the draw, Mangia said that he was hoping for a far kinder draw, particularly from Pot 3, 4 and 5.
“This has been a very tough draw for us,” Mangia said. “Surely, we could have been handed a kinder draw from Pot 3, 4 and 5 but that is what we have and we have to start focus on this group. For sure this is another good challenge for the team to continue its growth and gain more experience, particularly for the young players.
“It is a big challenge but we will be ready for it.”
In fact, Croatia are ranked 11th in the world while Slovakia is 33rd and Russia 39th.
The other countries in the group too have a far higher ranking with Slovenia 62nd in the world while Cyprus is ranked 100th.
Malta was last paired with Croatia in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers when during that campaign the national team managed a prestigious 1-1 draw at the National Stadium with Stephen Wellman netting the equaliser for Horst Heese’s team.
Slovenia were in Malta’s qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup and the former Yugoslavia Republic completed a double winning both meetings 1-0 in Ta’ Qali and 2-0 at home.
Slovakia on the other hand were paired with Malta in two World Cup qualifying campaigns. The first for France 1998 when they secured a 2-0 win in Ta’ Qali and then registered a 6-0 win at home.
The two countries were again put in the same group again for the 2018 World Cup and the Slovakians registering the double with a 3-1 win at the National Stadium before coming out on top again 3-0 in front of their own fans.
On the other hand, Russia and Cyprus have never been drawn with Malta in a competitive qualifying campaign.
The fixtures of the qualifying group, which gets underway in March with the opening three matches, will be announced in due course.