ADAM Goodwin (@agjournalism) shares his betting views on Friday night's World Cup qualifying clash between Malta and England.
Malta v England | Friday 1st September 2017, 19:45 | ITV
Joe Hart may still be having nightmares about Leigh Griffiths and his free-kicks, but England will be hoping to build on the point they gained against Scotland in June.
Harry Kane’s injury-time equaliser saved the Three Lions from their first defeat against the Scots since 1999. Gareth Southgate will want to avoid dropping any more points on Friday, against a side bottom of the World Cup qualification group.
Malta is a small island off the coast of Italy and, with a population of just under 450,000, is one of the smallest countries in the world. It’s known for its unique prehistoric temples, some of the oldest stone buildings in the world and the extraordinary architectural and artistic legacy of the Knights of St John.
If you’re not a fan of history, this won’t mean an awful lot to you. But if you’re a football fan, you’ll know Malta aren’t very good. They currently sit in 190th in the FIFA World Rankings, just above Djibouti, but slightly below Bangladesh.
In Malta’s six qualifying games so far, the Falcons have conceded 15, scored two and have suffered 3-1 and 5-1 defeats to Slovakia and Scotland respectively.
As for recognisable names in the Malta team, they’re few and far between. Current captain, most-capped player and all-time leading goalscorer Michael Mifsud is still in the squad at the age of 36. He may be remembered by Coventry fans, where he played 86 times and scored 16 goals.
Sam Magri and Luke Gambin are the only Maltese players currently playing in England. Magri is at Dover, and Gambin is in League Two with Luton.
Despite nearly suffering a humiliating defeat to Scotland earlier this year, England look in a comfortable position at the top of Group F. With four wins and two draws, the Three Lions are just a few points away from securing their place at the 2018 World Cup.
The only two goals England have conceded in qualifying are both the Leigh Griffiths free kicks, and I expect them to keep another clean sheet on Friday.
Gareth Southgate hasn’t really experimented with his squad, Harry Maguire and Nathaniel Chalobah being the only new faces in the England camp. Jordan Pickford has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, but with Jack Butland, Hart and Tom Heaton also in the squad, no replacement has been called-up.
The betting angles
I fully expect Southgate to put out a strong line-up in Ta' Qali and it’ll be more than strong enough to beat a Malta team who have only won two games since the start of 2014.
In the 5-1 defeat to Scotland, Malta really struggled with crosses from wide areas, which is perhaps a weakness England will exploit on Friday. If Southgate continues to use the 3-5-2 formation he opted for in his first few games as manager, expect Ryan Bertrand/ Aaron Cresswell/ Kyle Walker to be heavily involved in the England attacks.
As already mentioned, Malta really struggled to deal with the width and crossing ability of the Scots. Harry Kane is 10/3 to score a header with SkyBet; if England’s wide men are as dangerous as Scotland’s were in Ta' Qali last year, I think Kane will deliver.
Malta very rarely concede more than three or four goals and tend to sit a lot of men behind the ball when playing against the better teams. They’ve only lost 1-0 to Italy, 2-0 to Iceland and 2-0 to Croatia in the last few years, along with the 2-0 to defeat at Wembley in October.
Therefore, England to win and Under 3.5 Goals at 21/20 (Boylesports) looks a decent price to attack.
Malta v England – England to win and Under 3.5 Goals (21/20 Boylesports)
Malta v England – Harry Kane to score a header (10/3 SkyBet)