All hail Malta’s queens of football

Their fighting spirit and professionalism are an inspiration to the younger generations

Malta’s international successes in football have been few and far between. Most of the success has been at men’s club level with significant progress registered over the past few years in European competitions, although the group stages have so far escaped us.

The men’s national team has had far less success with the odd victory or draw that sparks some hope only to be dashed soon after.

But the women’s national team has broken the mould with an impressive run in the UEFA Nations League. The team yesterday not only obtained promotion to League B but did so in the most impressive of ways. It was truly an unparalleled run.

The statistics are nothing like Malta has ever experienced in football: 13 goals scored, a single goal conceded by goalkeeper Janice Xuereb, five victories, one draw and not a single loss, and Haley Bugeja emerging as top scorer of the tournament with eight goals.

The women aced it from beginning to end and they deserve all the accolades and praise from a sporting public that has been yearning for such a victory.

But the figures only tell one part of the story. It has to be acknowledged that the promotion is a crowning moment for the development work that has been taking place over the past two decades to improve women’s football in Malta.

The success is not coincidental or borne out of luck. The game at a local level has improved and the national team today boasts of a handful of Maltese players who are playing at a professional level in foreign leagues.

This is testament to the important work done at grassroots level by the Malta Football Association and other administrators at club level. The project that started 20 years ago now has a proper youth system for women footballers ranging from under-12 all the way to under-19 thus creating strong foundations for long-term success.

But there is another factor that underpins the success – the winning attitude imbued by the inspirational national coach Manuela Tesse.

In the coach’s own words, the playing style has been revolutionised with the team playing possession football and adopting a pressing game. The Maltese women footballers have confidence and it is evident that they walk onto the pitch with the intention of winning.

This confidence and never say die attitude is often lacking in Maltese athletes but not the women’s national football team. And the effort and the success do not depend on singular players despite the presence of the magical Haley Bugeja.

Tesse has called up 46 different players during her tenure as coach over the past six months. “All players understand that we have to retain a good level for every game,” Tesse told MaltaToday last month. This drive to achieve better is visible on the pitch.

Women’s football is experiencing significant global growth, and its upward momentum shows no signs of diminishing. In parallel, Malta’s women’s team is also on an upward trajectory, which we are sure can continue in earnest if the right resources are poured into the game.

The analysis of this splendid success is important because it can inform future decisions. But for the time being we can put aside the numbers and toast this historical success for women football in Malta.

Malta is proud of what these women have achieved for the country, for football and for young women. Their fighting spirit and professionalism are an inspiration to the younger generations. This leader joins the rest of the nation in applauding this team and its historic achievement. All hail the queens of football.