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Carabott: Home support can be Malta's 12th man against England
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Robert O'Connor
Press Association
David Carabott (left) claimed Malta’s only ever goal against England, though FIFA credit an own-goal to Richard Wright (Owen Humphreys/PA)
David Carabott (left) claimed Malta’s only ever goal against England, though FIFA credit an own-goal to Richard Wright (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Malta’s home support at the Ta’ Qali Stadium can be their 12th man and ruin England’s hopes of a third-straight Euro 2024 qualifying win on Friday, according to former player David Carabott.

The 122-cap veteran has a contentious claim to being Malta’s only ever goalscorer against England, after his penalty struck a post before rebounding in off goalkeeper Richard Wright during a friendly in the capital Valetta, 23 years ago.

FIFA officially credit the goal – which drew the tiny Mediterranean island nation level after Martin Keown had scored for Kevin Keegan’s side – to then Ipswich keeper Wright, who was making his international debut.

And Carabott had a chance to write himself further into his country’s folklore with a second spot-kick in the 88th minute to earn an unlikely draw, but this time Wright saved with his feet.

Emile Heskey had already scored his first England goal to earn a 2-1 win, but it was an underwhelming finish to the team’s Euro 2000 warm-up schedule as the team laboured against a nation with a population  of under half a million.

Carabott, who finally signed off his international career in 2005 as the county’s third-highest goalscorer with 12, says Malta have made strides in the more than two decades since England squeaked past them, and that they have spirit in the squad to frustrate Gareth Southgate’s team.

“What I can guarantee is that Malta will give England a hard time,” said Carabott. “They will put them under pressure, they will frustrate them, they will try to break the game, stop England from scoring early.

“The longer that passes, the more frustrating it will become for them, nor for us. That’s where we will find our motivation, courage and fighting spirit.

“We have a supporters club now that make a big difference to us at home, the ground will be a good asset for us. It can be the 12th man.”

Malta are ranked 172nd in the FIFA ranking -, sandwiched between Bermuda and Moldova – but like many smaller European sides, they have become more competitive since the inception of the Nations League in 2018.

They went down 2-0 after a battling display against European champions Italy at the Ta’ Qali Stadium in March, days after pushing Euro 2020 qualifiers North Macedonia all the way in Skopje, eventually losing 2-1.

The team have followed the blueprint of other UEFA members in looking for talented players abroad with eligibility for citizenship, in the expectation that regular game time in bigger leagues will ultimately benefit the national team.

Most notably the 33-cap midfielder Teddy Teuma, born and raised in France, played a key role as Union Saint-Gilloise came within a whisker of winning the Belgian title in 2022. The 29-year old will miss the meeting with England through injury.

“Three days ago, Malta beat Luxembourg 1-0 away,” said Carabott. “We competed with them and beat them. They’re about 70 places above us in the rankings.

“We’re getting more competitive, we’re exploring a lot of other talents with Maltese citizenship that play abroad, because our national league, the level is not that high.

“When you can use players who play abroad, where the structure is on another level.

“We have Teuma playing in Belgium. He makes all the difference for us, you see the level he is at, how high it is compared to the others.”

Despite the passing years, Carabott still recalls vividly the day he almost snatched a famous draw for his country against England.

“It was fantastic to show that we are Malta. OK, we are tiny, but when we have to prove ourselves against a great nation like England, we can rise to the occasion,” he said.

“The people in the street after that game (were optimistic for the future) but in football it depends on the opposition. We played England, we had nothing to lose, it was a beautiful day and we performed brilliantly.

“I cannot say that in the years since we haven’t improved, or we have not made headlines at home.

“Improvement is being made and our national team have been doing well, but to compete against such great national sides as England, Italy, Ukraine and Macedonia – we know it’s a very, very tough group for a country like us.”


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