With just four competitive wins in their international history, Malta will go into the European Qualifiers as outsiders once more, but foreign moves are broadening local players' horizons.
This summer Birkirkara FC midfielder Rowen Muscat became the latest Maltese international to take a giant leap into the unknown, signing for Hungarian top-flight newcomers Dunaújváros. "I will improve my game and, of course, assist in the improvement of our national team – I am delighted to have finally realised my dream of playing abroad," the 23-year-old told UEFA.com. "It has always been my dream, and I am sure that of every Maltese player."
It is almost certainly quite high up the wish list of Malta coach Pietro Ghedin that as many of his players as possible get to experience different football cultures as he prepares to lead them in UEFA EURO 2016 Group H against Croatia, Norway, Italy, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. Malta captain Michael Mifsud consistently brings the benefits of his foreign adventures to the national side, and Muscat is now one of five Malta players enjoying life overseas.
Midfielder André Schembri has left AC Omonia for German second division outfit FSV Frankfurt, telling UEFA.com: "The 2. Bundesliga is known as the best second division in the world. Most of the squad have Bundesliga experience so it will not be easy getting into the first XI." Another long-term wanderer, defender Andrei Agius, remains in the Italy with FC Aprilia, while goalkeeper Andrew Hogg is still in Greece following a promising debut season with Kalloni FC.
"Last season was a very difficult one for the club mainly due to problems with our home stadium due to permits," Hogg said. "Now it is all ready and in line with Greek Super League regulations. Last season we played away from our fans and our home fixtures were always played in mostly empty stadiums. We had to travel far more than any other team in the Super League but still managed to maintain our status in the Greek top flight. Some new players have arrived and this should make our squad stronger. With our home stadium backing we are ready to be that team that everyone dreads to play against."
Muscat added: "The life of a professional footballer is not easy but it can be very rewarding if you are responsible and disciplined," he said. "My first month in Hungary was very difficult – language barriers and the way of life were the two things I needed to deal with, but once I realised how welcome I was, it felt good." He will no doubt receive a similarly warm welcome when he brings his new skills back to Malta for the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers.
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