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U-19 Euro

Out of tournament, Malta’s real win is to inspire the next generation

Moments after Malta’s 2-0 defeat to Poland on Thursday night, two young fans – no older than eight – entered Malta’s dressing room with an autograph book and a pen in their hand. They did not care if their team won or lost. They just wanted to meet the heroes they watched for 90 minutes.

And that is what it is all about.

Malta does not win very often. They are ranked 172nd in the world for a reason – but it is not without the lack of trying. In fact, they are only at the UEFA U19 Championship because they are hosts. But that will not stop their young generation dreaming. But in reality, it does not matter if Malta wins a game during this tournament – with a legacy guaranteed from it. Young fans – like those lucky two who entered the dressing room – are the next generation and they can only be inspired.

THE 58 MINUTE AND 26 SECONDS DREAM: For 58 minutes and 26 seconds against Poland, the two young kids plus the other 1,616 fans packed into the Centenary Stadium believed in something that is very rarely seen in Malta. A win, in a major tournament. While it did not come to pass, a distinct roar reverberated around the venue in the shadows of the near 17,000 capacity National Stadium – just a mere 15 metres away – offering those two starry eyed children a glimpse into their future.

“The fans are brilliant,” U19 boss Tozé Mendes said. “But I think we are doing our job inside. The first step for us is to have our fans supporting us and we have to show that we are able to fight and work hard for them. We cannot wait for them to push us.

“I believe that the first step is always us, and that always depends on us. When we were losing the Maltese supporters still pushed the team because they saw something inside us on the pitch that we fought with a desire and will to win.”

For a time, it looked like Malta could beat Poland in Ta’ Qali. Wiktor Matyjewicz’s first-half dismissal gave them hope – and Dylan Scicluna could feel it with a passionate roar that followed a clenches fist to the home support.

Matyjewicz then trudged up off the pitch before sitting in the main stand – with a towel covering his dejected face – perhaps trembling that his red card could lead to his side stumbling to a humiliating defeat.

POLES APART: But luckily for him, the Polish defender avoided that. Basil Tuma missed a sitter in the 52nd minute – and then his side took the lead before the hour mark through Igor Strzalek.

Poland were flustered until point, as seen with a female supporter cooling herself down with a makeshift fan. That feeling soon dissipated after Scicluna was sent off – and then Tomasz Pienko sealed a valuable win in the 82nd minute. But the result was always going to be irrelevant. Malta’s U19 side are inspiring the next generation, and that is all they can do.

“I can say that I am happy with the performance,” Mendes added. It was not the result that we wanted but the first big chance was ours and if we took that we could change the game in our favour…

“We can take a lot of belief. We are playing with several players who are U18. In the game against Italy we entered the game with four U18 players. But age is not important for me with this team.

“I believe in the future and this age group will become the next generation of Maltese footballers.”

Credit: AIPS Media

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