|By PADDY HIGGS
Jacob Borg arrived in Malta in August with little more than hope and a suitcase. Five months on, the Wollongong-born right-back is steeling himself for a senior international debut on Wednesday.
Borg has won a place in Malta's squad to face Northern Ireland on Wednesday in an international friendly, in which he could face the likes of English Premier League players Chris Brunt and Steven Davis.
How things have changed for the 21-year-old of Maltese descent, who had been part of Gold Coast United's National Youth League side in the 2011-12 season.
After the A-League club's demise, Borg - a former Australia Under-20 representative - had moved to Illawarra Premier League club Dapto Dandaloo United, but frustration at a lack of higher opportunities eventually drove him to consider overseas.
With "no interest" in him from clubs when he arrived in Malta, Sydney-based agent Chris Tanner got Borg a trial at Balzan Youths, who duly snapped him up.
"I was looking at going overseas after Gold Coast folded, because there was really no future for me in the A-League," he told Goal.com.
"I saved up my money and moved over here… I ended up signing for a club here in the Premier League."
Freed for club games on weekends, he has been rubbing shoulders during the week with a Malta squad comprised of home-based players such as Daniel Bogdanovic, Michael Mifsud and Luke Dimech.
They may not be household names in the country of his birth, but - having carved all out notable careers across Europe - they are ones to emulate in Malta.
He is one of three potential debutants against Northern Ireland, with 2014 World Cup qualifiers against the likes of Italy, Denmark and Bulgaria to come this year.
"I am [pinching myself]. My dream was to play for Australia again, but I think my chances of playing for Australia are slim," he said.
"I'm half-Maltese as well, so I also feel that playing for my background country could be very good as well. To play against countries like Italy, Denmark, Belgium… that is massive.
"You could have big scouts from big clubs watching the games going, 'Hey, you know this guy is alright. We should have a better look at him'."
It is Borg's form for Balzan Youths that has put him in the thinking of national manager Pietro Ghedin, while it has also put him on the radar of at least three other local Maltese Premier League teams.
| 'THE LUCKY ONE'
|Borg's manager Chris Tanner of Zenith SEM believes his client's European passport makes him a fortunate one, and there are too many other players whose careers end prematurely due to a lack of opportunities in Australia:
"The system in Australia is all wrong. We filed a report where every A-League coach told FFA we needed a reserve Grade and not the... NYL [National Youth League] we have now. It is dysfunctional like its predecessor. All the coaches agreed that emerging players need senior football. I encourage all Australian players with the appropriate passports to get the hell out of here and learn their football in a better system."
He has made four starts and has been involved in every match, helping the minnows climb into seventh on the table.
While happy to stay put until the end of his contract when the 2012-13 season finishes, Borg lives by the motto that "being good enough is never good enough".
"I'll stay here, and when the season finishes I want to move on to bigger and better things. Each year I want to develop myself, become a better player and then move on," he said.
Having the luxury to decide is one he values, particularly after his last few months back home: "In Australia, there are very limited teams and a lot of good players. A lot of the young players do miss out, which is sad because young players are the future," he said.
"… I'm lucky because I have the EU passport and I can go to Europe, but it's sad because some players don’t have that option
"When I was back at home I was getting frustrated. It was very frustrating, very disheartening. But the move has been good. I was a bit wary at the start, but the move has been good. I've learned a lot."