Few who witnessed Andrei Agius's sterling display at the heart of the Malta defence in the 0-0 draw against Albania on 11 February, their first point in Group 1 of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, would believe the 22-year-old was playing just his fifth senior international.
The up-and-coming defender, who plays his club football in Italy with Sicilian outfit FC Igea Virtus Barcellona, believes that his mature performance against Albania is a result of having moved abroad at an early age. "I left Malta when I was just 17 to play for Serbian first-division side FK Zemun, and the following year moved to Italy," Agius told uefa.com. "My next big step came when signing for FC Messina Peloro at 19, who loaned me out to Martina Franca in [Italian Serie] C1 and then Igea Virtus in C2. Though I signed a four-year contract with Messina last year, unfortunately they went bankrupt and I decided to stay with Igea Virtus."
Keeping his place
Buoyed by the plaudits received after the Albania game, a match he described as "a whole lot of fun", Agius has set himself lofty goals at both national and club level. "I'd been waiting for the chance to play for my country since a young age and I really want to keep my place in the side," said a player who made his senior debut back in February 2006. "I'd also like to earn a move to a bigger Italian club. I'm quite ambitious and will give it my all to go as far as I possibly can."
On the back of his own experiences away from Maltese soil, Agius feels it would benefit his national side to have more players in foreign leagues. "I only played 45 minutes of football in the Maltese Premier League because I left for Italy so young, but football is still at a semi-professional standard," said Agius, whose only appearance in his country's top flight came for Sliema Wanderers FC against Floriana FC in December 2003. "When you're abroad you have to think and act like a pro, if you don't then you can easily get left by the wayside.
Pride in the shirt
"I'm still just as passionate about the game as when I used to go school every day with a football in my bag, and playing abroad is a real bonus," said Agius, before reiterating his determination to stay in the national-team picture. "It really means a lot to me. I know that every Maltese player would love the chance to pull on the country's jersey and make Malta proud."
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