Malta: 1990 World Cup qualifiers

< UEFA Group 6


Malta could have no hope of qualifying for the 1990 World Cup from Group 6, and had naturally been ranked 5th in the seeding. But they usually manage to hold off a draw or two in these qualification rounds. In the 1988 Euro qualifiers, they had drawn against Portugal (a) and Switzerland (h). In the 1986 World Cup qualifiers, they had drawn against Czechoslovakia (h). They could obviously cause trouble for teams dependent on points in an even group. It was therefore likely that they would create some upset also this time.

Horst Heese was newly appointed coach of the Maltese national team. His most prominent position as a manager had hitherto been the job at N├╝rnberg (1980-81). He had been last seen managing in Viktoria Aschaffenburg (December 1986).


Malta’s campaign for Italy’90 would begin early, starting in May with Northern Ireland away. Before this match, they met Scotland in a friendly in Attard:
22.03.1988 Malta 1-1 Scotland
Goal: Busuttil
Line-up: Cluett – Brincat, E Camilleri, Buttigieg, Scicluna, Azzopardi – Micallef (Scerri 10), R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Carabott, Busuttil
Malta again showed their ability to draw with a decent European side, Busuttil the goalscorer. Couldn’t they repeat this against N. Ireland, a similar team to Scotland? Heese would now have another two months of preparation before starting on the road to Rome.

Who would be in Heeses XI against N. Ireland? A look at the Malta squad spring 1988

Qualifier 1
21.05.1988 Northern Ireland 3-0 Malta
Line-up (5-3-2): Cluett – Brincat, E Camilleri (Micallef h-t), Buttigieg (c), Galea, Azzopardi – Scerri, Scicluna, Degiorgio (Caruana 60) – Carabott, Busuttil
Malta eventually went down to a scoreline, but Busuttil had wasted a glorious chance to give them the lead early on, and then Buttigieg hit the bar with a free-kick after the first home goal. Malta conceded twice more before half time, and were struggling without influental midfielder Ray Vella

01.06.1988 Malta 2-3 Wales
Goals: Busuttil 2
Line-up: Cluett – Brincat (Scicluna 75), E Camilleri, Buttigieg (c), Galea, Azzopardi – Carabott (Refalo 59), Scerri, Micallef (Lowell 37), Degiorgio – Busuttil
There were a couple of debuts for Malta, with Leo Refalo and Emanuel Lowell appearing during the second half. This was their third consecutive match against one of the home countries, and dimiutive forward Busuttil continued his good run by scoring both of Malta’s goals

12.10.1988 Cyprus 0-1 Malta
Goal: Busuttil
Line-up: Cluett – Brincat, E Camilleri, Buttigieg, Scicluna, Azzopardi (Woods) – Scerri, R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Carabott (Gregory 70), Busuttil

18.10.1988 Israel 2-0 Malta
Line-up: Cini – Brincat, E Camilleri (Suda 83), Buttigieg, Scicluna, Azzopardi (Woods h-t) – Scerri, R Vella (c), Degiorgio (Gregory h-t) – Carabott (S Vella 66), Busuttil

23.11.1988 Malta 1-1 Cyprus
Goal: Carabott
Line-up: Cluett – Brincat, Scicluna (Woods), Buttigieg (c), Galea, Azzopardi – Scerri (S Vella), Gregory, Degiorgio – Carabott, Suda (Saliba)
Scicluna featured in all three friendlies, but would never again put on the national team jersey. Busuttil, who else, got the winner in Cyprus, a game in which Heese had sent out an experienced eleven, where only right sided midfielder Brincat had not yet reached double cap figures. The defeat in Israel saw debuts for young ‘keeper Cini, defender/midfielder Silvio Vella and midfielder Suda, whereas Carabott’s goal against adversaries Cyprus, this time in the ‘return leg’ at home, was his first ever at international level. Saliba made his debut in this one

Qualifier 2
11.12.1988 Malta 2-2 Hungary
Goals: Busuttil 2
Line-up: Cluett – Galea, Buttigieg, E Camilleri (Saliba 55) – S Camilleri (S Vella 72), Scerri, R Vella (c), Gregory, Azzopardi – Carabott, Busuttil
This was a good result albeit against a depleted Hungary. The rampant Busuttil got both Malta’s goals, and captain R Vella showed his worth in midfield

11.01.1989 Malta 1-2 Israel
Goal: Carabott
Line-up: Cluett – S Camilleri (Ciantar 75), E Camilleri (Gregory 23), Galea, Azzopardi – Scerri (S Vella 64), R Vella (c), Degiorgio, Carabott – Busuttil, Suda
Another goal for young Carabott to follow up that which he recently got against Cyprus. His goal had been the equalizer, but Israel would go on to win it in the second half. Midfielder Suda got his international debut

Qualifier 3
22.01.1989 Malta 0-2 Spain
Line-up: Cluett – S Camilleri (E Camilleri 55), Buttigieg, Galea, Azzopardi – Brincat (Scerri h-t), R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Busuttil, Gregory, Carabott
As had been expected, Spain proved too strong, though Malta put up a good fight in an often physical contest. Gregory was very unfortunate not to score when his close range header was brilliantly parried by Zubizarreta

Friendly tournament (“Rothman’s International Tournament”) on home soil:
08.02.1989 Malta 0-2 Denmark
Line-up: Cluett – Brincat, E Camilleri, Buttigieg, Galea, Azzopardi (S Vella 70) – Scerri, R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Gregory (Suda 85), Carabott

10.02.1989 Malta 0-1 Algeria
Line-up: Cini – Brincat (Sciberras 62), E Camilleri, Galea, Azzopardi (c) – S Vella, Scerri, Gregory (Saliba 73), Degiorgio – Suda (Psaila 69), Carabott

12.02.1989 Malta 0-0 Finland
Line-up: Cluett – E Camilleri (Saliba), Galea, Buttigieg (c), S Camilleri, Azzopardi (Sciberras) – Scerri, Gregory, Degiorgio – Suda, Carabott

The ‘Malta International Tournament’ was arranged for a fourth successive year. Twice inaugurally had it been won by German Bundesliga clubs (Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart respectively), then by the East German Olympic team. Algeria would win this edition. Teenage goalkeeper Cini won his second cap against the Algerians, and two players who would not feature during the qualifiers for Italia ’90 made their debuts. Both matches against Nordic opposition had been played with what were virtually full strength teams, with the great exception of captain Vella for the final match. Buttigieg had taken the captaincy

Qualifier 4
23.03.1989 Spain 4-0 Malta
Line-up: Cluett – E Camilleri, Buttigieg, Galea, Azzopardi (Cauchi 31) – Scerri, R Vella (c), Gregory, Degiorgio – Busuttil, Carabott
It eventually became comfortable for Spain as Malta had had Degiorgio sent off just before half time with a soft second yellow. Heese had taken off the woeful Azzopardi after just half an hour after he had been unable to follow the man-marking instructions down his side

Qualifier 5
12.04.1989 Hungary 1-1 Malta
Goal: Busuttil
Line-up: Cluett – Cauchi, Galea, Buttigieg, E Camilleri, Azzopardi – Scerri, R Vella (c), Gregory (S Vella h-t) – Carabott, Busuttil
Strong wind contributed to ruining the quality of the game, but Malta deserved their point so much. Time and again the visitors were given the opportunity to counter-attack. A lack of quality in the final ball denied them the chance to win it in the second half. Malta finally saw a solid right-back display: Cauchi had done well. Was he the answer to Heese’s problems in this position?

Qualifier 6
26.04.1989 Malta 0-2 Northern Ireland
Line-up: Cluett – Galea, Buttigieg, E Camilleri – Cauchi (S Vella 72), Scerri, Gregory, R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Carabott (Delia 78), Busuttil
A lack of creativity made sure Malta were left with nil, and they also gave away two rather sloppy goals which could be blamed on a lack of concentration. It was back to the drawing table for Heese after the excellent point in Budapest

Half term verdict

Qualifier 7
28.05.1989 Republic of Ireland 2-0 Malta
Line-up: Cluett – S Vella, Buttigieg, Galea, Azzopardi (Carabott 66) – Scerri, Gregory, R Vella (c), E Camilleri, Degiorgio – Busuttil
It was an expected outcome as Malta never threatened the home side, and it was quite possibly Malta’s most negative performance during the qualifiers. S Vella had been equipped with the difficult task of looking after giant striker Cascarino, and E Camilleri had been placed in a defensive midfield position. Heese had not picked a designated right back

04.10.1989 Malta 1-2 Austria
Goal: Zarb
Line-up: Cini – S Vella, Galea, Delia (Zerafa h-t), Azzopardi – Scerri, R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Suda (Carabott 69), Busuttil, Zarb

11.10.1989 Cyprus 0-0 Malta
Line-up: Cini – S Vella, Galea, Delia, Carabott – Scerri, R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Suda (Zerafa), Busuttil, Zarb

25.10.1989 Malta 0-4 East Germany
Line-up: Cini – S Vella (Delia h-t), Buttigieg, Galea, Azzopardi – Scerri, R Vella (c), Degiorgio (Magri 53) – Carabott, Zerafa, Zarb

Valletta forward Zarb, the main domestic league striker, scored on his debut to give Malta the lead against the Austrians, who had arrived with an experienced side, whilst the draw in Larnaca would be only the third time out of a total of 13 internationals in the calendar year of 1989 that Malta did not lose: Cini was again in goal, Suda in midfield, and Zarb had started up front. Then a strong GDR outfit won comfortably, with Heese giving debut to young Magri, whereas his Floriana team mate Delia made a third consecutive appearance. The same went for Zarb and young midfielder Zerafa

Qualifier 8
15.11.1989 Malta 0-2 Republic of Ireland
Line-up: Cini – S Vella, Buttigieg (c), Galea – Scerri, Zerafa (Zarb 69), Gregory, Degiorgio, Azzopardi (Suda 69) – Carabott, Busuttil
There was no Maltese answer to the Irish intent of making qualification certain. The absence of suspended captain R Vella was felt, and due to another suspension, that of goalkeeper Cluett, Cini made his qualification debut and did well


Two draws have to be counted as acceptable for Malta. Crucially both of them came against Hungary. Malta’s top player in this campaign was Carmel Busuttil, who experienced an international breakthrough.

Those who had been following the Maltese qualifying campaign close up, would have noticed some quite remarkable player developments along the way. Goalkeeper David Cluett had given a bit of an indifferent impression in the opener in Belfast, but he grew steadily throughout the campaign, and although he had been suspended for the final match at home to the Irish, he had proved his worth between the sticks. And even young Cini who had taken over the gloves for the match against the Republic had done reasonably well. There appeared to be little to fear for years to come regarding the goalkeeper’s position.

Defence: In the centre, both Buttigieg (the free man) and Galea had played every single minute of the ’90 qualifiers. Older brother Camilleri, Edwin, also seemed to be a preferred starter under Heese, and Azzopardi at left back likewise. Malta’s problem appeared to be in the right back position, where both young Brincat and younger Camilleri brother Silvio had been given the opportunity to impress without quite taking it. Cauchi had been another option, and even E Camilleri (Spain away) got playing time here. The real con deal was to perform in Dublin without a recognized right back. It seemed to confuse the Irish, as Sheedy down their left hand flank never managed to utlize the space that he had ahead of him.

Midfield: Having missed the opening tie in Belfast through injury, R Vella came in and steadied ship from the Hungary home game and onwards, until he missed the final game at home to Ireland through suspension. The captain’s calm head was always a source of comfort to Malta, even when sea was rough. Around him Charlie Scerri grew into a decent player at international level. Having started off the campaign in a central capacity, he seemed more at home when he was able to use his positional sense and awareness down the right hand side. Martin Gregory had, like Ray Vella, missed out on the opening tie in Northern Ireland, but would be starting every one of the seven following matches. He could perform in a host of roles, and was perhaps the single player in the Maltese team to have the most attempts at goal during the qualifiers without finding the net (in fact, only Busuttil ever did). Young David Carabott, originally a striker, was also deployed in a wide midfield role on several occasions, and most definitely also grew during the year and a half that the Maltese campaign lasted. In a left-sided role, there was also the reliable Michael Degiorgio, by now the most experienced player in the Malta national team squad, winning his 57th cap against the Irish at home. Silvio Vella did not often appear in the centre of the pitch, but when he did, he looked more at home here than he did when having to play in a man-marking role in defence. Then again, judging him on the background of his two appearances of looking after man mountain T Cascarino was probably unfair.

Attack: With his three goals in eight matches, Carmel Busuttil, the third Malta player in addition to Buttigieg and Galea to feature in every minute of the qualifiers, received most of the international acklaim that came in the Malta players’ direction. He was also their only foreign legionnaire in a European top flight league, plying his trade with Genk in the Belgian first division. He had only notched three goals during their relegation season of 1988/89, but had been featuring regularly. He would help Genk win back their place in the first division after one year on the second tier. With his low centre of gravity and smartness in moving, he could sometimes be difficult to pick up for the opposition’s defenders, and he seemed to enjoy playing with Scerri on the wide right, like was seen during their 1-1 in Hungary. Mainly, he would have young David Carabott next to him in attack, and even Martin Gregory was seen as a striker in the home game against Spain.

Malta had never embarassed themselves, and could look ahead with optimism for the qualifiers for the 1992 European Championships. Hopefully, still with Horst Heese in charge.

Final position: 5 (out of 5)
Total record: 8 0 2 6 3-18 2
Home record: 4 0 1 3 2-8 1
Away record: 4 0 1 3 1-10 1

Player statistics

Number of players used: 24
Number of players including unused substitutes: 32
Ever-presents (720 mins): 3 (Galea, Buttigieg, Busuttil)
Leading goalscorer: Carmel Busuttil (3)
Yellow/red cards: 9/1

– overview

Busuttil, Carmel8872031/0
Buttigieg, John88720
Galea, Joseph887201/0
Scerri, Charles871675
Carabott, David871642
Cluett, David776302/0
Gregory, Martin77585
Vella, Ray665402/0
Azzopardi, Alex775262/0
Camilleri, Edwin761495
Degiorgio, Michael6614651/1
Vella, Silvio5232261
Cauchi, Denis3211221
Brincat, Joe22135
Camilleri, Silvio22127
Cini, Reggie11790
Scicluna, Martin1190
Zerafa, Jesmond1169
Micallef, Charles1145
Saliba, Nicholas1135
Caruana, John1130
Suda, Hubert11421
Zarb, Joe1121
Delia, Jesmond11312
Ciappara, Paul1
Falzon, Joseph2
Licari, Bernard1
Lowell, Emanuel1
Magri, Oscar1
Refalo, Leo1
Sammut, Simon1
Woods, Michael1

– game by game

PlayerNIR (a)Hun (h)Spa (h)Spa (a)Hun (a)NIR (h)Ire (a)Ire (h)AppsMins
Camilleri, E455535909090906+1495
Degiorgio60R9045 (s.o.)9090906465
Camilleri, S72552127
Vella, R9090909090906540
Vella, S18RR451890902+3261

– ratings

PosPlayerAverage ratingNumber of rated games
3Vella, R6,666
6Camilleri, E6,487
Explanation to table: Number of rated games: 8. A player must have obtained a rating in half or more of the games in order to feature


07.02.1990 Malta 1-1 Norway
Goal: Scerri
Line-up: Cini – E Camilleri, R Vella (c), Galea, Falzon (Laferla 23) – Scerri, Gregory, Degiorgio – Suda, Zarb, Carabott

10.02.1990 Malta 1-2 South Korea
Goal: Laferla
Line-up: Cluett – E Camilleri, R Vella (c), Galea, Laferla – Scerri (Zammit h-t), Gregory, Degiorgio – Suda, Carabott (Zerafa 63), Falzon (Zarb h-t)

05.05.1990 United States 1-0 Malta
Line-up: Cini – Brincat (Scerri 42), S Vella, Buttigieg, Galea, Laferla – Gregory (Zerafa 75), R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Suda (Licari h-t), Carabott

28.05.1990 Malta 1-2 Scotland
Goal: Degiorgio
Line-up: Cini – S Vella, Buttigieg, Galea (E Camilleri h-t), Laferla – Gregory (Zarb 62), R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Zerafa, Carabott, Licari (Scerri 77)

02.06.1990 Malta 0-3 Republic of Ireland
Line-up: Cini – S Vella (Delia 63), Buttigieg, Galea (E Camilleri 83), Laferla – Gregory (Zarb 74), R Vella (c), Degiorgio – Zerafa, Carabott, Licari