If league tables never lie then Malta's UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying tie against Slovenia on Wednesday night will be a no-contest. Malta, Group 1's bottom club with five defeats from five matches, trail their visitors by six points going into the game at the National stadium, Ta'Qali. According to Malta and Hibernians FC goalkeeper Mario Muscat, however, the result is anything but a foregone conclusion. "We can get something out of this match," he told uefa.com.
uefa.com: Bottom of your group and beaten 6-0 away to France on your last outing, how confident are you ahead of the qualifier against Slovenia?
Mario Muscat: I think we can get a positive result against them in front of our own fans, and I am confident we will also do well at home to Cyprus if the coach has all his players available.
We can pull off a surprise or two in these games and hopefully get our first win. But then we have another tough match in our final qualifier away to Israel.
uefa.com: How happy are you with Malta's form in the section so far?
Muscat: Despite the result in Lens, I think we tried to play football for the first forty minutes against France. But once they scored, there was no stopping them. France are not just the strongest team in the group; they are the best in the world at the moment. Our position at the bottom does worry me, but we have been unlucky in many of our games. For instance, away to Cyprus, we could easily have gone in at half-time 2-0 up yet we ended up losing 2-1.
uefa.com: How highly do you rate the standard of Maltese football, at club level and at international level?
Muscat: Maltese football has suffered from a general lack of excitement and interest this season, with Sliema Wanderers [FC] dominating the Premier League from the start and nobody really challenging them. But the national team has improved. Last year we had a six-match unbeaten run. Then we beat the Balearic Islands in December and drew with Kazakhstan in a friendly in February. So the criticism that followed the defeat against France was unfair in my opinion.
We have to look forward and continue to show signs of progress in our remaining EURO 2004™ qualifiers.
uefa.com: What is needed if the game in Malta is to make real progress?
Muscat: Facilities are the priority if we really are to improve the standard of Maltese football. Without the right professional facilities, I can't see the game developing. There has to be investment at grassroots level, too, and if I was a Premier League chairman I would invest in an academy. Then, looking at the national team, the more our players go abroad, the better they will become and standards will improve accordingly.
uefa.com: You played in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds last summer. How did you enjoy the experience?
Muscat: After winning the league with Hibernians last season, everyone at the club wanted to get into the Champions League. We beat Shelbourne [FC] with two great performances, then played well in the second qualifying round against Boavista [FC] but went out 7-3 on aggregate. I suppose you have to bear in mind that Boavista then reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals. But the Champions League was an unforgettable experience. I would have loved to have drawn a big club after our first qualifying round win, and maybe that will happen if they change the format of the competition.
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