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Malta beat Libya home and away

The Malta squad before the home game against Libya in 1966.

The Malta squad before the home game against Libya in 1966.

February 14, 1966 was a special date in the history of our game.

On that day, Malta played their first and only international match at the Manoel Island ground. Our opponents were Libya.

This first encounter between the two countries offered some curious contrasts and similarities.

Both teams used the new 4-2-4 system of play which at the time was the rage in Europe.

By way of contrast we had Malta, a country with a 75-year soccer tradition but no financial resources, and Libya a country only just emerging in the soccer sphere but with great riches which could help to improve the game by no small measure.

Malta won the match 1-0 and deservedly so.

Despite our shortcomings, and these were many, the Libyans were too feeble to test our defence. Our team, however, lost so many scoring chances that most of the spectators went home disappointed.

The winning goal was scored midway through the first half.

Joe Aquilina took a free-kick from the edge of the penalty area and chipped the ball to Joe Cini who passed it on to Edward Aquilina. The latter only had goalkeeper Bahlu to beat and he scored with a fierce shot.

The Libyans improved considerably after the interval but Malta still enjoyed the best of the exchanges.

Chances were created but they were squandered although towards the end of the game John Bonett’s header struck the upright.

This match was the only bright spot of the notorious Manoel Island season. But, the next year, a ray of light spread over our game. Football in Malta had sunk so low that an improvement was inevitable.

During the close season, a new contract was signed between the MFA and the Stadium Management and Manoel Island was abandoned as a bad investment.

Memories of that particular campaign still linger on but few of them invoke the least shred of nostalgia, except perhaps, Malta’s dominating performance against Libya.

A return match was played in Tripoli on March 26, 1966.

Malta won the match 1-0 proving, once again, the superiority our national team still enjoyed over African sides at the time.

It was not long, however, before our neighbours began to close the gap in standards.

Once again, Malta were the best team but the Libyans played some very good football and in midfield they seemed to have a slight edge.

Malta’s attack, however, with Ronnie Cocks, Eddie Theobald and Edward Aquilina in fine form was outstanding.

The goal was started by Salvu Gatt. Sensing an opening, the sturdy Hibs defender sent a long pass to the unmarked Bonett. He split the Libyan defence with a penetrating pass to Cocks who dribbled past his direct marker before letting loose an unstoppable shot past goalkeeper Abbad.

The game was clean and enjoyable. However, it came to an untimely end three minutes from time when the Libyan referee dismissed Lino Falzon for a soft foul.

The Maltese players protested and for some reason which only he knew, the referee abandoned the match… probably the Libyans were happy to lose the match with just one goal!

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