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 Nürnberg (1980-81). He had been last seen managing in Viktoria Aschaffenburg (December 1986).
David Cluett looked to have established himself as the first team choice in goal. Young goalie Reggie Cini was his back-up. Third keeper: Pierre Calleja (Sliema W.).
Heese wanted to field three central defenders. Star player Buttigieg had qualities to play as libero (not easy to say who would fill this role if not him). As man-markers, Edwin Camilleri and Martin Scicluna looked to be the most likely combination. But hardman Joe Galea was also in contention here. There was no question about who would play left back: the very reliable Alex Azzopardi. 2nd choice Michael Woods (Hibernians) was however also a solid player. The right back must have caused Heese many sleepless nights early spring 1988. Buttigieg had of course right back as one of his natural positions, but he was needed as libero. Joe Brincat (Ħamrun Spartans) could perhaps be the man.
Other options: Dennis Cauchi (Floriana).
Ray Vella (Ħamrun Spartans) has been described as the mastermind in the Maltese team and would take place as a deep lying playmaker. Around him, there would be two central midfielders. Michael Degiorgio was now the most experienced member of the team and although a natural winger, would be used as a central midfielder with attacking duties. Charles Scerri was another candidate: a player with good technical skills. It would probably be either Scerri or Charles Micallef (Zurrieq) as the third midfielder. There was also defensive midfielder Kris Laferla (Valletta), who had been a regular in the Euro qualifiers, but now looked to be out of favour.
Other options: Emanuel Lowell (Birkirkara), Martin Gregory (Floriana).
Carmel Busuttil, the last of Malta’s three key players, played as a second striker in Heese’s team, with licence to roam. As striker, David Carabott (Hibernians) looked certain to be given the nod. No obvious alternatives behind these two, but possible, if unproven, candidates were Leo Refalo (Ħamrun Spartans) and Joe Zarb (Valletta).
Int. friendly: Malta 1-1 Scotland
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.
Unoff. friendly: Merthyr Tydfil 2-1 Malta International World Cup XI