Wembley Stadium is the venue as England and Malta go head-to-head in their penultimate 2024 European Championship qualifying Group C clash on Friday.
Coming into the last international break of the calendar year, the Three Lions are one of nine sides to have secured qualification for next summer’s tournament in Germany with two games to spare.
Gareth Southgate’s team have reigned supreme in Group C. Except for a 1-1 draw against Ukraine on Matchday 5, they have won all five remaining qualifiers, including a 3-1 home triumph over Italy last time out.
Harry Kane’s brace and Marcus Rashford’s goal early in the second half helped the beaten Euro 2020 finalists exact revenge on the Italians, throwing their progression hopes into doubt.
But while Rashford’s club form remains indifferent, Kane is on his way to smashing Robert Lewandowski’s record in the Bundesliga as he continues to rain down goals for Bayern Munich.
Even though this contest has no meaning for England, it looks like a perfect match for the ex-Tottenham Hotspur striker to add to his outstanding 61-goal international tally.
Speaking of the irrelevance of the upcoming England fixtures against Malta and North Macedonia, Southgate’s decision to omit James Ward-Prowse again is baffling.
Three fresh call-ups could line up for the first time as Cole Palmer, Rico Lewis and Ezri Konsa are in contention for their maiden appearances for England.
Taking on below-par opposition at Wembley sounds like a unique opportunity for the trio to make their senior debuts for the national team, especially given England’s formidable home record.
Southgate’s men have won all 13 Euro qualifying games at Wembley since September 2011, with ten of those victories coming ‘to nil,’ highlighting the nation’s lofty ambitions ahead of Malta’s visit.
England thumped the Mediterranean minnows 4-0 in the reverse fixture in Ta’ Qali last June to preserve a 100% win ratio in this match-up, making it six wins out of six.
On that basis, the Three Lions’ bid to protect their almost-perfect international record since bowing out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar (W7, D1) is a near-certainty.
The abovementioned H2H record paints a bleak picture for Malta, who, after losing all seven Euro 2024 qualifiers via a combined score of 18-2, have nothing but pride left to play for.
For a side ranked 171st in the world by FIFA, damage limitation will probably be at the forefront of manager Michele Marcolini’s mind, knowing his men have lost three of their four away games in 2023.
Malta’s defensive shortcomings have come to the fore recently as they’ve capitulated nine times in their last three Euro qualifiers, most recently succumbing to a 3-1 home defeat to Ukraine.
But the most noteworthy takeaway from that showdown was the Knights of Malta breaking the deadlock, fuelling some hope they could score only their second-ever goal against England.
In addition to James Maddison, who has pulled out of the England squad due to injury, Southgate will be without Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell and Jude Bellingham, all of whom are struggling with fitness issues.
Callum Wilson and Lewis Dunk are other notable absentees, while personal matters have postponed Rashford’s arrival at the camp.
As for Malta, Teddy Teuma’s return from injury comes as a massive boost for Marcolini’s side, considering the Reims playmaker is the beating heart of this team.
England potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Marc Guehi, Kieran Trippier; Declan Rice, Trent Alexander-Arnold; Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish; Harry Kane.
Malta potential starting line-up:
(3-4-2-1): Henry Bonello; Jean Borg, Zach Muscat, Enrico Pepe; Paul Mbong, Bjorn Kristensen, Matthew Guillaumier, Ryan Camenzuli; Teddy Teuma, Jurgen Degabriele; Kyrian Nwoko.
We Say: England 5-0 Malta
Another one-sided affair is in store for England. The only question is – can they better the result from the reverse fixture?
Despite being forced to play without Maddison, Rashford and Bellingham, the Three Lions boast too much firepower in forward areas to be contained by Malta.
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