America's Cup holders Team New Zealand have welcomed the historic challenge of Malta for the 2021 regatta in Auckland.
The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron also confirmed another syndicate has been cleared to participate though their identity won't be immediately revealed. That means five challengers are now involved alongside the Kiwis.
Malta confirmed on Friday their challenge had been accepted after being one of eight late entries posted last week for the regatta's 36th edition.
More teams are putting their hands up to try to win the America's Cup off Emirates Team New Zealand.
Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced his country's first tilt at the Auld Mug, saying they would sail under the name Malta Altus.
Cup holders Emirates Team New Zealand have been vetting the late entries but quickly rubber-stamped the Malta challenge and then announced a fifth challenger had also been cleared to compete.
Team NZ boss Grant Dalton said: "We are happy to welcome the Royal Malta Yacht Club and the Malta Altus Challenge to the 36th America's Cup. After New Zealand, they are now the smallest country to challenge for the America's Cup. We know what it is like to be a small team facing long odds in taking on one of the biggest challenges in sport and we wish them the best."
Malta has a population of just under 500,000 and the origins of its premier yacht club can be traced back to 1835, pre-dating the America's Cup's existence.
The Royal Malta Yacht Club has hosted the Rolex Middle Sea Race for 50 years and now goes for yachting's biggest prize.
"This is a massive opportunity for our club to promote Malta and the skills that exist in the marine industry on a global stage," Commodore Godwin Zammit said.
Team principal Pasquale Cataldi, an Italian businessman based in Malta, and the founder and CEO of the multinational real estate and development company, Altus, said they were taking a long-term approach.
"Our goal is to do three editions of the America's Cup. If you want to build a strong team, then you need to commit to three America's Cup cycles. I think everyone in this edition is in it for the long-term. We have a new class, so the game is level for everybody, and the differences are not so much," he said.
Cataldi said they had taken inspiration from the way New Zealand, a small country, had dominated the modern America's Cup scene.
It is understood Malta will operate a one-boat campaign and are in talks with Team NZ about purchasing a basic design package for the new 75 foot foiling monohulls to be raced in Auckland as well as the world series over the next two years
The crew will be revealed early next year but there was speculation in Italian media that the Maltese have recruited some of the Artemis Racing sailors from Bermuda who were available with the Swedish syndicate sitting out the next America's Cup. These include Artemis skipper Iain Percy who is being touted as a leader.
The syndicate has links to successful Sardinian sailing team Adelasia of Torres who had earlier confirmed interest in the Cup.
The acceptance of the Malta challenge came after Team New Zealand chief operations manager Kevin Shoebridge told Auckland councillors on Thursday that two of the eight late challenges were now ready to go unconditional though no names were announced.
Italian media, working with keen interest in the Cup with Luna Rossa as official challenger of record, suggested the new challenges were coming from: Malta, Imperia in Italy, the United States (2), Norway, Japan, China and Holland.
Shoebridge said the boost in interest hadn't surprised the Cup holders.
"We'd been working with some of these teams for over six months, to try and encourage them into the event," Shoebridge said.
"All the entries have come from credible yacht clubs, although we are cautious we are very respectful of the entries they are putting in. They have all put in a huge amount of effort and taken a big step. It has taken a lot of courage for them to submit their entry. So we are treating them all with the respect they deserve."
Shoebridge said they wanted to complete the vetting process quickly to get a firm number settled as pressure builds on accommodating challenging teams in bases in the Auckland viaduct.
"It could take up to Christmas before we get the final number confirmed" he added.
"The situation is that there are two that are capable of immediate acceptance, and we think there is definitely another couple that is possible.
"For all my time in the Cup, I have never before seen such high numbers of challengers trying to enter."
So far heavyweights Luna Rossa, American Magic and INEOS Team UK have been formally announced as having their challenges accepted.
Team France confirmed Thursday (NZT) they won't be contesting the next America's Cup in Auckland due to a lack of funding.