After the euphoria of making it past a round of female competition for the first time, Malta are facing up to the daunting prospect of taking on top-level opposition in the FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying group stage.
Having fallen in the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 preliminary round, Malta made it through on home soil last week as they drew 1-1 with Albania, then beat Luxembourg 6-0 and Latvia 2-0 to top the group on goal difference. That took them into the main qualifying round draw on Tuesday. Their home and away fixtures starting in September will include UEFA Women's EURO 2013 finalists Denmark and Iceland, a Switzerland side who reached the 2011 World Cup play-offs, Serbia and Israel.
Malta's 30-year-old captain Rebecca D'Agostino has skippered the national side since their debut match in August 2003 against Romania, and is well aware of their task. She was ever-present in Malta's only previous campaign against top-level opposition, when they lost all eight 2011 World Cup qualifiers against the likes of England and Spain, there having been no preliminary round, now restored.
"To be honest, before the preliminary tournament in Malta started I was thinking that Malta could clinch second place, but when we drew 1-1 against fellow favourites Albania and all of us knew we could make it in the end," D'Agostino told UEFA.com. "A most memorable day not only for me but for all the women's football community in Malta who have all played their part to see this objective become a reality.
"Being drawn against Denmark and Iceland, who will be competing in UEFA Women's EURO 2013, plus Switzerland, Serbia and Israel is quite a daunting task. But if we keep moving on the right track, with the right mentality, and keep our feet firmly on the ground I do believe we can spring a surprising result or two."
Pierre Brincat, the coach that appointed D'Agostino captain a decade ago and has masterminded the Maltese women's game throughout that time, is delighted with the step forward. "This is history written for Maltese women's football," he said. "I am so happy for my team and my squad and everyone who has worked so hard to see this objective reached. No doubt the next phase will be very difficult but we have to keep our feet firmly on the ground and learn from this forthcoming experience."
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