The Malta Independent 29 September 2021, Wednesday

Qatar 2022: Second defeat in a row for gallant Malta

Wednesday, 8 September 2021, 07:34 Last update: about 20 days ago

Despite playing another brilliant match, David Mangia’s men return empty handed to Malta after a brave display in Moscow against Russia. A gift goal early in the match and a penalty close to full-time were enough for the hosts to bag another important three points in this tight qualification group.

Malta showed tactical discipline, cohesion and courage throughout the match, pushing their more quoted opponents back into defence for long stretches. Unfortunately, the guests did not take the chances that came their way.


Compared to the Slovenia match last Saturday, Mangia made six changes. In defence, Steve Borg, Ryan Camenzuli and captain Andrei Agius replaced Kurt Shaw, Triston Caruana and the injured Enrico Pepe. Steve Pisani was preferred instead of Juan Corbolan in midfield, while strikers Luke Satariano and Shaun Dimech were replaced by Luke Montebello and Paul Mbong.

After a quiet start, the hosts took the lead in the tenth minute. Captain Fedor Smolov took full advantage of a Steve Borg error, who underhit the ball back to

Henry Bonello, with Smolov beating the goalkeeper with a low pointer. A huge setback all together, as the guests combined well, while the Russians failed to create any danger throughout the first half. On 38 minutes, a Ryan Camenzuli scorcher just missed target for the adventurous Maltese and on the stroke of half-time, Luke Montebello was inches away of equalising, with an accurate shot on the turn that nearly crept in at the far post, after the Russian rear-guard failed to clear the ball in their own box.

Three minutes after the break, goalkeeper Guilherme had to stretch out to save Joseph Mbong’s low grounder from the edge of the box. A good start or the Maltese, who continued to make the Russian defence nervous with some accurate passing. Malta threatened even more as time ticked by and just after the hour, Guilherme had to save his team once more after another Joseph Mbong attempt from close range. Three minutes later it was again Mbong’s left foot causing trouble but the Hamrun Spartans midfielder was unlucky not to find the net.

In the 70th minute, Russia had his first real goalscoring opportunity in the second half but Smolov’s attempt was too weak to trouble Bonello.

In the 76th minute, Russia was nearly offered another present with a faulty backpass from Zach Muscat, but the ball narrowly missed target, much to the relief of the Maltese.

On 83 minutes however, it was all over for Malta when the referee awarded a penalty to Russia after a handsball incident in the box with Camenzuli handling the ball. Substitute Zelimkhan Bakaev made no mistake from the spot, sending Bonello the wrong way. On the stroke of fulltime, Russian debutant Maksim Osipenko’s attempt from a corner action was cleared from the line by substitute Nikolai Muscat.

However, once more, a lot of positives were recorded, another step forward in the way Mangia would like to see his team play. In the same qualification group, Croatia beat Slovakia 3-0 while Slovenia made no mistake at home against Cyprus (2-0). After six matchdays, Croatia and Russia share top spot with 13 points, followed by Slovakia with 9, Slovenia has seven points while Malta is just ahead of Cyprus on goal average with four points.

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