Still on a high from the 1-0 qualifying victory in Armenia in June which had all Malta fans in raptures, Pietro Ghedin's side must prepare for the even tougher test of Denmark on Friday – albeit with a new mascot giving them support.
Although Malta fell to a 3-0 friendly loss in Azerbaijan last month, as coach Ghedin gauged his squad's potential, the talk is still of the win against Armenia. Michael Mifsud's 37th goal in 98 internationals and the goalkeeping brilliance of Justin Haber, allied to a tireless team performance and stoic defending, helped end a 20-year wait for a competitive away success. Malta now hope to be celebrating again at the Ta' Qali National Stadium where three points would move them level with Denmark in FIFA World Cup Group B.
Haber said: "We always believe in our abilities. I have always thought that if we can take our chances and remain disciplined then we can repeat what we did against Armenia."
Behind Malta will be not just the partisan home crowd, but a backer from the animal kingdom. In May a local newspaper carried a story about a shivering wet dog found abandoned in an uninhabited part of the island tied to a wooden fence. This prompted Malta Football Association (MFA) president Norman Darmanin Demajo to call the Noah's Ark animal sanctuary offering to adopt the one-year-old hound as national team mascot.
The mutt, named Zep (short for Guzep, the local equivalent of Joseph) after a children's competition run by the MFA, is now settled in a well-appointed kennel by the VIP entrance to the national stadium. Zep has become a favourite of all the national teams and according to the senior squad has taken a liking to midfielder Roderick Briffa. "My mates say I am his favourite?" Briffa asked UEFA.com. "I didn't know dogs could talk! But yes, I must admit he is a favourite of mine too – I take him around the Ta' Qali area whenever I get the chance."
Of Friday's fixture, Briffa added: "A very important match against Denmark – no doubt about that. Denmark are coming from two straight defeats – a 4-0 home drubbing against Armenia just after we had beaten them, and a 3-2 friendly loss to Poland. I am sure we will give everything, as we always have done. With the home crowd behind us I think we can get another positive result."