LUKE WOODS admits he may have to leave Wealdstone to fulfil his burning international ambitions.
The 22-year-old dazzled in his sixth and final game for Malta Under-21s against Frances' young guns last Friday and has now set his sights on challenging Justin Haber for the number one shirt in the country's first team squad.
However, Woods has yet to feature for the Stones first team this season due to the outstanding form of new custodian Sean Thomas. The former Queens Park Rangers stopper has, in the words of manager Gordon Bartlett, 'got his nose just in front' of Woods.
Woods admits playing second fiddle to Thomas had affected his confidence but has returned from Malta refreshed and more determined than ever to win back a starting place. If he fails, pastures new could beckon.
Malta's youngsters were crushed 5-0 by Les Bleuets but the result could have been even more humiliating had Woods not kept them at bay with a string of assured saves.
Several scouts went away impressed with what they saw and Woods' dream of plying his trade in the Blue Square Premier, English football's fifth division, may have moved a step closer.
"When you come up against a side like France you have got to defend, and that is all we practiced," admitted Woods.
"I was a bit fed up I conceded five goals but they all stemmed from players failing to pick up their men. It could have been a lot more.
"The coach told me afterwards that I had done the team and the country proud with my performance, which was great to hear.
"I did get a bit of interest shown after the game and one man who enquired about me was surprised I was at Weald-stone."
Woods qualifies for Malta through his father Michael, a former Maltese full international centre back who still lives there.
The goalkeeper's cousin, Andre Schembri is Malta's biggest football star behind Coventry City's Michael Misfud and Woods wants to follow suit.
"I'm extremely proud to play for Malta as it's a great country," added Woods, who came to their officials' attention as they scouted John Frendo of Ware, the club Woods played for last season.
"The main goal for me now is to try and get a cap for the full national team. But I need to be playing regular football if I am going to continue playing for my country.
"If I get an offer for first team football it is something I would have to consider. No goalkeeper can sit on the bench all season and Gordon (Bartlett) and Sean (Thomas) know that. Another option is to play a season out in Malta to raise my profile for the national team.
"I might be speaking too soon but it would be a shame to leave Wealdstone as they are a great bunch of lads there."
Woods, who is in his second year studying a Sports and Exercise Science degree at the University of Hertford-shire, bears no grudge towards his shirt rival, Thomas, insisting he will push the 20-year-old even harder after returning from international duty.
"Sean is an excellent goalkeeper and is playing very well at the moment," commented Woods. "I am chasing him and there is no pressure for Gordon to change things.
"I was feeling low during the past few weeks. Without wanting to sound big headed I have played a few internationals and was extremely disappointed not to be number one choice at the club at the start of the season.
"It dented my confidence being in the reserves and I had a long hard think about my future on the flight out to Malta. I have come back more confident, feel fantastic and know I have got to work hard."