Updated: Briffa's gem not enough as Malta lose 3-1 to Czech Republic
CZECH REPUBLIC-3, MALTA-1
Roderick Briffa scored a wonderful goal but his effort was not enough to earn Malta a first point in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign following a 3-1 defeat to the Czech Republic at the Doosan Arena in Plzen this evening.
Unsurprisingly, the Czechs held the initiative for long stretches as they chased their first qualifying after a goalless draw with Denmark but Briffa crowned a brisk first-half performance by Malta with a well-taken equaliser eight minutes from half-time.
The 1-1 scoreline at half-time came as a shock to the home crowd as they had come to the stadium expecting a goal feast after the Czechs, quarter-finalists at Euro 2012, had gone four matches without scoring.
Yet, Malta's hopes of recording what would have been a famous result away from home petered out in the second half that was completely dominated by the Czechs who had sealed the issue by the 67th minute after scoring twice in the space of 15 minutes.
After an encouraging first half, Malta struggled to contain the fast-moving Czechs in the second and hardly threatened Petr Cech in goal.
In the dying stages, Hibs youngster Ayrton Azzopardi, a surprise inclusion in Pietro Ghedin's squad, made his debut after coming on for Shaun Bajada.
Malta coach Ghedin made one change from the Italy qualifier, Bajada replacing the injured Daniel Bogdanovic.
Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg made his first save after five minutes when blocking Theodor Gebre Selassie's dipping header from Frantisek Rajtoral's corner.
Roderick Briffa then demonstrated some excellent footwork as, having dispossessed Jiracek just outside the box, he nudged the ball across the Czech winger before running clear.
As was to be expected, the Czechs piled the pressure from the early stages but the Maltese defence held firm with Luke Dimech making two headed clearances to clear dangerous crosses into the Malta box.
Malta created a half-chance on 15 minutes when Briffa's long pass from midfield bypassed a host of players and landed into the path of Mifsud who ran forward before hitting a rising shot that sailed wide of Petr Cech's goal.
After holding off the Czechs' early efforts, Malta improved as the first half wore on. A good move saw Mifsud break clear through the middle but his through-pass to the advancing Alex Muscat was intercepted.
Michal Bilek's men were dangerous when Jan Rezek ran clear of Muscat but the Anorthosis Famagusta forward's cross was overhit.
Hogg was reprieved when, after collecting Dimech's backpass, his delayed clearance ricocheted of the advancing Tomas Pekhart but, luckily for Malta, the ball sailed over.
On the half-hour, Edward Herrera's swerving effort from a wide position flashed wide of the far post.
Hogg then failed to hold Plasil's long-range drive but the Malta goalkeeper redeemed himself by pushing away Jiracek's point-blank effort. But, Malta's reprieve was temporary as, from the ensuing action, the Czechs went in front. David Limbersky drove towards the byline from the right before hitting a perfect cross into the goalmouth where Gebre Selassie headed home.
The Czechs' delight was palpable as Gebre Selassie's header ended their goal drought but their joy was cut short when Malta equalised with a great goal eight minutes from half-time.
Everything owed to Briffa who swept past Michal Kadlec and Rajtoral before beating Cech with a crisp finish.
The Czechs looked shocked but they regained the lead seven minutes into the second half. Jiracek dashed towards the byline and his perfect cross was headed in by the towering Pekhart.
Limbersky's powerful drive from the distance sailed over on 62 minutes and Jiracek's low shot was stopped by Hogg.
Midway into the second half, the Czechs made the points safe. Plasil advanced towards the byline on the left before laying the ball back for Jan Rezek who fired home.
Hogg then foiled the Czechs when keeping out Pekhart's header from another Plasil cross.
The Czechs breezed through the remaining minutes but, in stoppage time, Malta had a glorious chance to narrow the deficit. Azerbaijan referee Anar Salmanov pointed to the spot after Petrzela was deemed to have pushed Borg as the latter tried to connect with Mifsud's corner.
Mifsud took charge of the penalty but his drive was saved by Cech.
P. Cech, T. Gebre Selassie, M. Kadlec, T. Sivok, D. Limbersky, J. Rezek, F. Rajtoral (61 M. Petrzela), J. Plasil, T. Hubschmann, P. Jiracek (72 V. Darida), T. Pekhart (82 D. Lafata).
A. Hogg, A. Muscat, G. Sciberras, A. Agius, L. Dimech, E. Herrera, R. Briffa, M. Mifsud, A. Schembri (87 P. Fenech), S. Borg, S. Bajada (89 A. Azzopardi).
Referee Anar Salmanov (Azerbaijan).