Malta were playing only for pride against Israel on Tuesday but for the country's four national-team centurions the final UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying fixture proved an emotional occasion nonetheless.
David Carabott, Gilbert Agius, Carmel Busuttil and Joe Brincat took the field before kick-off at the Ta' Qali National Stadium to receive the commemorative caps and medals recently issued by UEFA for players who have reached a century of international appearances.
The 119-cap Agius, still playing at 37 for Valletta FC, said that emotions were "running high" for the quartet. "Playing over 100 times for my country is already in itself a wonderful achievement – being recognised in such a manner by Europe's governing body even more so."
Carabott, Malta's record appearance-maker with 122 outings spanning 18 years, thanked UEFA for the "special" accolade. The 43-year-old said: "It really came as a surprise to me and I did not expect anything like this. It's an amazing initiative which shows the respect that UEFA has not only for the players active in the game but also for those who have participated in European football history."
Now Malta's assistant coach, the 47-year-old Busuttil was equally appreciative. "It is a big honour being recognised by Europe's highest football authority. Credit to UEFA for their recognition of all the centurions in European football. It rewards all those footballers who have gone past the mark of playing 100 times for their country for the big sacrifices we make," said the first man to achieve a century of Malta caps, who was also named his nation's Golden Player in UEFA's golden jubilee year of 2004.
The last of the four, Brincat concurred that the honour was "reward for all the sacrifices you put into the game". The 41-year-old, who earned 103 caps, continued: "It also proves your consistency as a footballer over the years because playing over 100 times for your country is such a memorable and honourable achievement."
UEFA announced the new award in August, with the first presentations made after the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers on 2 September. Further presentations will take place at future national-team games, including November's friendly internationals, as well as other events across Europe. The full list of European international centurions is available on UEFA.com.
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