Sep 1, 2017 at 7.45pm UK
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Preview: Malta vs. England

Sports Mole previews Friday's World Cup Group F qualifier between bottom-side Malta and top-of-the-group England at the Ta'Qali National Stadium.

England will get their World Cup qualification campaign back underway on Friday when they travel to the Ta'Qali National Stadium to take on Malta.

The match will pitch top of the group against bottom as Gareth Southgate's side look to avoid an upset and take another significant step towards Russia 2018.


Malta players chase after Jesse Lingard in a match between England and Malta at Wembley© Offside

Six matches into the World Cup qualifying campaign and minnows Malta are still searching for their first point in Group F, currently sitting five points adrift of fifth-placed Lithuania.

The team's plight will not have come as a surprise to many, but head coach Pietro Ghedin will be desperate to get at least one point on the board before the campaign is over.

It is unlikely to come against England - and perhaps unlikely to come at all considering Malta have now lost their last 10 World Cup qualifiers and have only won one of their last 55 qualifying matches of any kind.

The solitary win came away too, and you have to go back to 2006 for Malta's last competitive victory in front of their own fans - a 2-1 triumph over Hungary during qualifying for Euro 2008.

Malta have never won a World Cup qualifier at home, though, and in any competition their last victory at the Ta'Qali National Stadium came back in June 2015 when they overcame Lithuania.

A home tie against the same opponents next month may be their best hope of amassing any points during this qualifying campaign, but this international break is likely to be another fruitless one for them against the British duo of England and Scotland.

Malta have experienced a rare triumph recently, though, beating Ukraine 1-0 away from home in June to end a 16-match winless streak which stretched back almost two years.

Ghedin's side may also take heart from the fact that they were only beaten 2-0 by England in the reverse fixture - a respectable result by their standards, particularly given they kept the Three Lions at bay in the second half.

A repeat of that result would be a success of some degree for the hosting minnows on Friday, but not many will expect them to fare any better than that.

Recent form: LLLLLL
Recent form (all competitions): LLLLWL


Interim England manager Gareth Southgate on the touchline during the international friendly with Spain at Wembley on November 15, 2016© SilverHub

The reverse fixture at Wembley in October saw the beginning of a new era for England as Southgate took the reins for the first time following Sam Allardyce's infamous one-game spell in charge, and the Three Lions will herald another new period for the trip to Ta'Qali on Friday.

For the first time in almost 15 years, England are unable to call upon the services of all-time top goalscorer Wayne Rooney after the Everton striker announced his retirement from international duty last week.

Having scored an unprecedented and unparalleled 53 goals for his country, England must now find someone else to turn to in times of need, with Jermain Defoe and Danny Welbeck the only other current squad members to have reached double figures for the Three Lions.

Goals should not be a problem against Malta, but England have faced the likes of Spain, Germany and France in their last five fixtures and they have only won one of those games - a home tie against Lithuania.

There is still work to be done before they can compete amongst the world's best, then, and with only four competitive matches remaining before England expect to board the plane for Russia time is running out for Southgate to address that problem.

This international break should take England to within touching distance of the World Cup finals - their two closest challengers Slovakia and Slovenia both face each other while England are taking on Malta and Southgate's side then have a home tie against Slovakia which could put them further clear.

England arrive in Malta having failed to win any of their last four away games across all competitions, though, stretching back to the last-gasp win over Slovakia in Allardyce's solitary game in charge almost a year ago.

However, they have not lost a qualifier of any kind home or away since 2009, a run which now stretches to 35 matches.

Matches against the likes of Malta will offer no suggestion of how England may fare in Russia, but with some of the old guard - such as Rooney and Joe Hart - appearing to be on the way out, Southgate could use the game as an opportunity to have a look at others who could make a late push for a place on the plane.

Recent form: WWDWWD
Recent form (all competitions): WDLWDL

Team News

Joe Hart in action during an England training session on August 29, 2017© Offside

Southgate has a number of important decisions to make heading into Friday's match, starting in goal where Hart is expected to face stiff competition for the number one shirt.

Everton's Jordan Pickford has been forced to withdraw from the squad, but for the likes of Jack Butland and Tom Heaton this could be the best chance yet to put a claim forward as Hart's successor between the sticks.

Southgate must also pick a new captain following Rooney's retirement, with Gary Cahill and Jordan Henderson the leading candidates for the armband.

Should England name a somewhat experimental side then the likes of Harry Maguire and Nathaniel Chalobah could be handed senior debuts.

Malta, meanwhile, will be without Alfred Effiong due to suspension, but Jean Paul Farrugia is back available having served a ban of his own.

Malta possible starting lineup:
Hogg; A. Muscat, S. Borg, Agius, Z. Muscat, Failla; Gambin, R. Fenech, Pisani; Farrugia, Schembri

England possible starting lineup:
Butland; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Bertrand; Henderson, Dier, Rashford, Dele, Sterling; Kane

Head To Head

These two sides have met on four previous occasions, and unsurprisingly England have come out on top each time, scoring 10 goals and conceding just once.

The reverse fixture saw first-half goals from Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli fire England to a winning start under Southgate at Wembley.

England's most recent visit to the Ta'Qali National Stadium came in June 2000 when goals from Martin Keown and Emile Heskey either side of a Richard Wright own goal saw Kevin Keegan's side record an unconvincing 2-1 win - a match in which Southgate was left on the bench.

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We say: Malta 0-3 England

England have not been sweeping these minnows aside so far under Southgate, and this is likely to be a similar story. The visitors should win comfortably, but it is unlikely to be a goalfest for the Three Lions.

Who will win Friday's World Cup qualifier between Malta and England?

Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in action during his side's Premier League clash with Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on November 5, 2016
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