England resume their bid to qualify for Euro 2024 with a trip to Malta on Friday. They’re very lucky, it’s lovely at this time of year.
In reality, their bid is already over and in a good way. Gareth Southgate’s side are 1/33 to reach the finals next summer.
Whatever happens in this game won’t markedly change that for better or worse. And make no mistake, England should win this.
Mismatches of this scale are a nightmare for bookies and punters alike. You could put any price you like for a Malta victory, it simply isn’t going to happen. That doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made, though, so here are some pertinent facts to consider before placing a bet.
Friday, June 16 – 7.45pm: Malta v England
EURO 2024 Qualifier – Ta’ Qali Stadium, Malta
TV: Channel 4
The less obvious head-to-head
The head-to-head record is often irrelevant in international football as many countries hardly ever face each other. England have played five previous matches against Malta but only three since the first year of Southgate’s life and two since 2000. They were the opponents for the manager’s first match in charge of the Three Lions but we need a bigger sample size from which to draw our conclusions.
It’s not easy to come by though. England so rarely face sides from outside the world’s top 75 in the rankings – let alone teams in 172nd , as Malta are, because they won’t ever meet them in tournaments and a friendly would be even more pointless than one against a strong footballing country. Under Southgate, England have played five such matches away from home, winning the lot and keeping a clean sheet every time. ‘Both Teams to Score: No’ looks a given.
But the Three Lions’ goal total in these games has ranged from one (in Lithuania) to 10 (at San Marino). The average of 4.8 should be a realistic aim for this one but don’t automatically assume it’ll be a cricket score in this match which takes place on the first day of the Ashes.
The time of year
As proud as they’ll be to represent their country, you must wonder how many England players really want to play this game. Take Jack Grealish, for instance. The Champions League final was 316 days after the Community Shield – he played in both, did another 48 matches for Manchester City and nine for England in between and is expected to keep going? Did you see the state of him at City’s treble parade? Chances are he won’t be involved here (though he is in the squad).
But his example highlights what a mad season it has been, and this sort of thing might help explain why England have never won an away game in June under Southgate from four attempts. Even on home turf in the sixth month of a year, while they have four wins from six, only one was by more than a single goal and that was 2-0 against the mighty Costa Rica. An exhausted and disinterested England will still beat Malta, but maybe not by as much as you think.
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Line up considerations
The above factor will undoubtedly affect Southgate’s selection for the match, which in turn impacts your selections for the goal scorer and assist markets. This is one game where waiting until the line-up is announced before placing your bet makes tremendous sense.
A stroll through England’s record in broadly similar matches illustrates the point perfectly. When they last visited Malta, Ryan Bertrand was among their scorers. There must be something about left-backs, because Ben Chilwell broke the deadlock in Andorra in 2021. Add in that Harry Winks scored in Kosovo and Emile Smith Rowe netted away to San Marino (in his only start to date) and it becomes clear that there will be better value options than Harry Kane for your coupon.
The referee factor
It’s natural to think Malta’s only chance of keeping England at bay is to kick them. And it might be, but that doesn’t always translate into cards. Referees are always happy to let an underdog get in a few sly digs to level the playing field a little, particularly in international football.
Across Malta’s last two games with England they picked up a solitary yellow card. When they faced Italy at home in March, it was the visitors who won the card count 2-0, while the Maltese only got one yellow when hosting Croatia two years ago. Yet they got two or three yellows in their home games with Israel, Greece and Ireland last year.
Against an elite team they appear to either have free reign or can’t get close enough to commit many fouls in the first place. The one wildcard factor is referee Igor Pajac, as he is inexperienced at this level with only two senior international matches under his belt. He’ll want a nice quiet evening in the Maltese sunshine though, so this should be light on cards.
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