The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

UEFA Nations League: Spirited Malta hold on to win point in Baku in 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan

Chris Cassar Sunday, 14 October 2018, 20:16 Last update: about 2 months ago
Photos: Domenic Aquilina
Photos: Domenic Aquilina

Azerbaijan    1
Malta             1

Azerbaijan: K. Agayaev, G. Garayev, P. Pashajev, M. Medvedev, A. Abdullayev, D. Nazarov, R. Dadasov, M. Madatov (J. Imamverdiyev 77'), R. Mammadov (T. Khaliladze 46'), R. Almeida, B. Huseynov.

Malta: A. Hogg, J. Mbong, S. Borg, A. Agius, R. Camilleri, J. Zerafa, A. Effiong (J. Grech 82'), P. Fenech, R. Muscat (R. Briffa 70'), J. Corbolan, A. Schembri (J.P. Farrugia 86').

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Referee: Ivan Bebek (Croatia)

Scorers: R. Muscat 36, A. Abdullayev 53'

Yellow cards: A. Schembri 43', P. Fenech 48', S. Borg 52', A. Agius 58',

A spirited Malta side yesterday obtained the second point of the group, with another 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan. The Maltese played their hearts out yesterday and played a great game.

Malta took a first half lead, and then had to withstand some pressure form the hosts, especially in the dying stages of the match. The draw can be considered as a fair result as Malta surely did not deserve to leave the Baku Olympic Stadium empty handed.

Azerbaijan hit the post twice, but Malta through Corbolan hit the crossbar too midway through the second half. It is impossible to single out Malta's best players who all gave their best, but a special mention to the likes of Zerafa, Corbolan, and Andrei Agius must be given.

Others like Steve Borg and Ryan Camilleri played a blinder in defence, with Andre Schembri playing a very good game too. Another special mention to Alfred Effiong who battled for every ball and to another outstanding performance by Malta custodian Andrew Hogg.

But all Malta players played a magnificent match, ably guided by Ray Farrugia who always believed that his side has all the potential to leave Baku with something positive from this match.  

As expected coach Ray Farrugia made three changes from the side that lost to Kosovo in Prishtina on Thursday. Joseph Zerafa and Ryan Camilleri, played instead of Clayton Failla and Ferdinando Apap in defence, and Balzan striker Alfred Effiong took the place of suspended Michael Mifsud.

The tactical setup was practically identical to that in Prishtina, with the newcomers occupying the roles held by Apap, Failla and Mifsud.

Malta started with a high pressing but lost an important ball in midfield on three minutes and Hogg made two great saves off Abullayev and Madatov and sixty seconds later saved with the help of the crossbar a dangerous Nazarov free-kick.

The Maltese however were very aggressive in the opening stages and Andre Schembri was inches away from scoring after pressing the Azerbaijan goalkeeper who had to clear with his foot. On seven minutes Paul Fenech tried his luck from the edge of the area with the ball missing the target.

However Azerbaijan started to push forward and had a goal disallowed for an offside position and on 21 minutes an Abdullayev deflected cross almost deceived Hogg, with Effiong finally clearing the danger.

On the half hour the Malta defence was caught on the wrong foot but Ryan Camilleri made a great recovery on Madatov. On 36 minutes Malta took the lead. Corbolan went through on the left and tested Agayev, but from the rebound the same Corbolan crossed towards Rowen Muscat who tapped the ball home from close range.

Azerbaijan pushed desperately forward and there were some anxious moments in the Malta penalty area with Hogg saving a point blank effort from Abdullayev. Just before the break and Hoog saved off Medvedev and Dadasov shot incredibly wide from two meters following a melee in front of Hogg.

Deep in stoppage time of the first half, Malta won a freekick for an Almeida foul on Effiong, but Andrei Agius' shot went wide.

The second half started with the Maltese pressing high and putting pressure on the Azerbaijan defence, but on 53 minutes Azerbaijan drew level when Madatov from the left crossed towards Abdullayev who had some space in the heart of the penalty area, and after chesting the ball drilled past a helpless Hogg.

The equaliser gave the home a new lease of life as they pushed for more. Malta had a good break on 62 minutes with Effiong heading wide off an Andre Schembri cross from the left. Azderbaijan were unlucky on 66 minutes when a Dadasov header hit the base of the upright.

On 70 minutes Malta was unlucky too when Miguel Corbolan's shot from close range hit the crossbar. After this action the Maltese failed to push forward as they had to endure the Azeri's pressure who were now doing their last ditch effort for the winner.

There were anxious moments in our penalty area with Almeida missing a sitter six minutes from time. The last minutes with four minutes added time were endless for the Maltese who bravely fought for every ball to finally earn a well deserved point.

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