Malta's participation in the qualifying round of the 1986 World Cup was completed during the 1985-86 season.
As was to be expected, the national team finished last in the group with just one point from eight matches. Malta could hardly have had a tougher group. Our opponents were West Germany, Portugal and Czechoslovakia.
This campaign, however, produced some bright moments for Malta. There was the 3-2 defeat to West Germany on December 16, 1984. Despite the gulf in class, Malta gave the mighty Germans a rough ride.
Malta forged ahead, held the lead for half-an-hour, and then scored a second goal to keep the illustrious visitors guessing until the very end.
There was also the 0-0 draw against Czechoslovakia at Ta' Qali on April 21, 1985.
Malta played a fine attacking game but the home team survived an almighty scare as Berger shot high from the penalty spot midway through the second half.
Malta played confidently and even went close to breaking the Czechs' ranks but a few minutes from time Ray Xuereb missed an excellent opportunity in front of goal.
Then, on October 13, 1985, Portugal defeated Malta 3-2 at the Estadio La Luz in Lisbon.
Portugal scored the winner with only five minutes left. Goalkeeper Johnnie Bonello made a string of superb saves and midfielder Ray Vella led the team impeccably.
Eleven minutes from time, Michael Degiorgio scored a memorable goal after a solo effort. That was the second equaliser for Malta.
The result in Lisbon is still regarded as one of the best ever obtained by Malta in an away match.
On November 17, 1985 Malta lost 1-2 to Sweden at the National Stadium. A goal scored after only two minutes by Robert Prytz paved the way for a Swedish victory. This match brought back memories of the 2-1 defeat by Sweden at the old Gżira Stadium.
Prytz's early goal affected the performance of the Maltese team.
A heavy downpour before the match did not help matters either. The National Stadium's pitch, despite being in an excellent condition, was very slippery. This gave an advantage to the Swedes.
In the first half, the Maltese rarely, if ever, threatened Sweden's fort. Many balls went astray because of the bad conditions. It was only in the second half that the locals finally settled down.
For about 10 minutes, they bombarded the Swedish rearguard and continued to share the exchanges with the Swedes before hitting a deserved equaliser.
After this goal, Malta seemed happy with the result. On the other hand, the Swedes stepped up their game in an attempt to regain the lead. They achieved victory with a splendid second goal a few minutes later as Maltese hopes of taking a second point in the group vanished.
Overall, Malta's performance in the 1986 qualifiers was their best in the competition until then.
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