The boy has always been special. Hailed as the wonderkid of Maltese football in the early years of his career, Michael Mifsud is now universally regarded as one of the best players this country has ever produced.
On Tuesday night, Mifsud further cemented his place in local football folklore after scoring a wondrous goal that earned Malta their first point in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign following a 1-1 home draw against Georgia.
Latching onto a pass from Roderick Briffa, Mifsud peeled away from Georgia captain Kakha Kaladze before unleashing a thunderbolt that sent the net bulging. His excellent strike was the highlight of a bright performance by Malta, one that took Mifsud’s record tally for the national team to 30 goals.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Mifsud said of Malta’s first point in Euro 2012 Group F.
“We’ve worked very hard to get our first point. We should have opened our account earlier but we were unlucky to concede last-gasp goals in the away qualifier against Georgia and the home game against Greece.
“I believe we fully deserved to gain a point from this match.”
Mifsud may have earned the plaudits for his goal but he insisted that all the players deserve credit for their contribution.
“It was a collective effort,” Mifsud said. “We produced a good performance and the most pleasing thing was that we played well from the first minute. In the previous game against Croatia, we were a bit shaky in the opening stages but improved as the match progressed.
“Against Georgia, we were focused from start to finish and remained strong physically.”
Malta’s sprightly showing on Tuesday lent weight to suggestions that our players perform better in the second game of a double-header.
“The second game is generally better for us because we find it easier to get to grips with the tempo of international football whereas in the first match, we usually struggle a bit because the pace is significantly higher than that of the domestic league,” Mifsud said.
Mifsud ranks his goal against Georgia as one of the best of his international career. “It is one of my best goals for Malta, definitely,” Mifsud said. “I’m happy with the goal, the result and the performance of the whole team. I hope we gain more points in our remaining two qualifiers.”
His scoring exploits in Malta’s last three international games suggest that Mifsud, who recently signed a long-term deal with Valletta, is back to his imperious best after the seemingly endless uncertainty about his club future threatened to put a blot on an otherwise extraordinary career.
Mifsud was reluctant to revisit that debate but said: “What saddened me during that difficult period was the attitude of some people who tried to undermine my reputation. There was a lot of criticism but I’ve always given my 100 per cent for the national team. But that’s in the past.
“As Malta captain, I want to thank the fans, especially the South End Core for their constant support during the Georgia game. On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to TeamSport for their unstinting backing.”
After Tuesday’s qualifier, Georgia coach Temuri Ketsbaia voiced his admiration for Mifsud, adding that he can’t understand why the prolific striker is plying his trade in the Maltese league.
Asked whether he regretted certain decisions he made in the past, especially after the end of his contract with Coventry, Mifsud replied: “I have always believed in my capabilities. I had positive spells with foreign clubs and I know that I can still make it abroad.
“In my career, I had set myself a particular target, I just wanted a small chance to show that I can perform at the highest level but unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
“Perhaps, there was a time when I became disillusioned with the game but there’s no point dwelling on what might have been. I’ve regained my motivation and I’m only focusing on the present.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing football and I never lost that passion.”
Now 30, Mifsud is not getting any younger but he still has many years of football – and goals – left in him, both at international and club level.
With 87 caps to his name, Mifsud looks well on course to reach the 100 mark and, possibly, eclipse David Carabott’s record of 121 appearances.
“Strikers thrive on goals and I want to keep scoring but it doesn’t matter who scores as long as the team does well,” Mifsud said. “In football, it’s the results that count.”
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