The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

5 June 1982: The day Malta beat Iceland 2-1 in neutral Messina

Tuesday, 28 June 2016, 10:27 Last update: about 6 years ago

There was a time when Malta was at par with Iceland in football terms.

And there was a time when Malta beat Iceland in competitive football.

It was on 5 June, 1982 when, on the neutral ground of Messina, Malta won 2-1 against Iceland in a match valid as part of the qualification group for Euro 1984, which had then also been hosted by France.

Malta was technically on home soil that day, but UEFA had sanctioned Malta after an incident in a match against Turkey. And so the game had to be played in Sicily.

It was the first match of the group, and was played a week before the 1982 World Cup games started. In those years, there was no fixed calendar for international matches, and countries could agree on dates that were suitable to both.

Malta’s two winning goals were scored by Ernest Spiteri Gonzi (above) in the 43rd minute and, soon after the break, Leli Fabri (below) had added a second goal. Iceland had halved the deficit with a Marteinn Geirsson penalty in the 51st minute, but Malta had held on to their advantage right till the end.

Malta had played with the following formation: John Bonello, Cost Consiglio, Edwin Farrugia, Norman Buttigieg, John Holland, Emmanuel Farrugia, Carmel Busuttil, Emmanuel (Leli) Fabri, Ernest Spiteri Gonzi, Guzi Xuereb, George Xuereb. Victor Scerri was the manager.

In the return match played exactly a year later, Iceland had beaten Malta 1-0. That competition had ended ignominiously for Malta after a 12-1 defeat against Spain in the last game of the qualifying stage, which meant Spain qualified at the expense of the Netherlands on goal difference.

In total, Malta has played Iceland 14 times, winning three times (including the game in Messina, while the other two were not competitive matches) and losing 10 games, while on one occasion the match ended in a draw.

Since that eventful day in Messina 34 years ago, matters have drastically changed as Malta remained anchored in the lower rankings of European and world football, while Iceland steadily climbed up to eventually make it to the Euro finals for the first time this year. Iceland, which has a smaller population than Malta's at 323,000, is currently number 34 in the FIFA rankings, and they will probably climb even higher after the results in France. Malta languishes in number 166.

Many thought Iceland's adventure in France would be brief, but with two draws against Portugal and Hungary, as well as a victory against Austria they qualified to the second phase of the competition. England were happy to be drawn against them – Iceland’s last second goal against Austria meant that England had avoided Portugal and Ronaldo – but now they have probably changed their mind.

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