England visit Malta for the seventh match of their World Cup qualification campaign, and there are few greater mismatches than this. At least some of the travelling England fans can enjoy the beautiful country while they’re out there, but they’re unlikely to see any particularly beautiful football from either side.
It was only in July of this year that Malta were at their lowest ever FIFA ranking of 191. They have now climbed to the dizzy heights of 190, and welcome England to their 16,997-seater stadium with faint hope of causing one of the great footballing upsets. England, for a point of reference, are ranked 13th in the world by FIFA.
Gareth Southgate’s side have enjoyed a satisfactory qualification campaign to date, and that’s about as good as it can get for sides of England’s stature. Draws with Scotland and Slovenia have been disappointing, but England are still nailed on favourites to qualify and fans can begin to plan their flights to Russia for next summer.
Potential debutants have been called-up by Southgate to at least provide some intrigue, but the outstanding Jordan Pickford has unfortunately pulled out with injury. Pickford was in line to battle for the number one jersey with Jack Butland as Joe Hart’s decline becomes clearer.
Hart will likely start against Malta in Pickford’s absence, though Butland should really be given a chance in these two matches. Whoever is between the sticks, England are 6/25 to keep a clean sheet. A perhaps welcome acca-booster given that Malta have scored just two in their six group matches to date.
Two of the other most notable England call-ups were Leicester’s Harry Maguire and Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah. A pair of players who should be part of England’s next generation could be given the chance to test the international waters in this fixture.
Southgate may opt to play a rotated team for this one, or it could be seen as a fill-your-boots opportunity for Harry Kane. Kane has started the season with his now typical August drought, and will see this as a chance to score four or five. The Spurs man is at 7/1 to get at least a hat-trick. Well worth it.
Even if Kane’s misfortune continues – or is rested for tougher battles to come – England have plenty of forward options to put a few past Malta. The ever-reliable Jermain Defoe is at 53/100 to find the net in 90 minutes and he could be a good option if Southgate opts to rotate.
England are so heavily favourites for this match there is no value in backing them solely for the win. Alternatively, a 29/25 price on the Three Lions to claim three points and score over 3.5 goals does look tempting. It might not be a massive moneymaker, but it’s as good as you can find in a qualifier like this.