Caruana goal decisive in Vaduz
Jonathan Caruana scored the only goal in a low-key midweek friendly match as Malta beat fellow UEFA minnows Liechtenstein in a cold-swept RheinPark Stadion, in Vaduz, last night.
This was the national team’s fourth victory this year, albeit all warm-up encounters, following the earlier successes over the same Liechtenstein (home 2-1), Luxembourg (away 0-2) and San Marino (away 2-3).
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin handed a starting role to Mosta goalkeeper Justin Haber while Terence Vella made his senior debut as he replaced Michael Mifsud in attack.
Caruana took his chances well to press his claim for a regular place in the team as the Valletta defender flanked the inspirational Luke Dimech, captain on the day, in the heart of defence.
Ghedin elected to switch defender Andrei Agius to right-back while Clayton Failla, back in the fray after a lengthy absence, returned to left-back.
Andrew Cohen also reclaimed a first-team slot after an elbow injury forced him out of the 3-1 World Cup qualifying defeat to the Czech Republic last month.
The game was off to a quiet start as both sides struggled to create openings but it was the hosts who threatened first when, after 24 minutes, Nicolas Hasler ran past Haber but his shot hit the upright.
Seven minutes from the half-time whistle it was Malta who broke the stalemate.
The Liechtenstein defence failed to clear a corner and Caruana capitalised as he drove the ball home from close in after a prolonged goalmouth melee.
In their last 2014 World Cup qualifier in October, Liech-tenstein suffered a 2-0 defeat away to Latvia. Rene Pauritsch’s team are bottom in Group G after losing their opening four quali-fiers but yesterday they were intent on regaining some lost confidence.
Not surprisingly, they went all guns blazing as the second half got underway and Malta were lucky a second time when Franz Burgmeier was denied by the woodwork.
Hasler had a couple of attempts at goal going wide and he also found himself in an ideal scoring position midway through the second half but blasted his shot wide of Haber’s goal.
But the Maltese rearguard never yielded and Ghedin also found time late in the match to hand young midfielder Rowen Muscat his debut after coming on for Birkirkara team-mate Gareth Sciberras.
Burgmeier could have handed Liechtenstein a last-gasp equaliser but hit the ball badly from inside the Maltese penalty area after a period of sustained pressure by the home side.
P. Jehle, D. Kaufmann (66 L. Eberle), Y. Oehri, I. Quintans (83 M. Christen), M. Stocklasa, F. Burgmeier, N. Hasler (90 A. Christen), M. Polverino, S. Wieser, T. Beck ( 66P. Erne), D. Hasler.
J. Haber, J. Caruana, G. Sciberras (84 R. Muscat), A. Agius, L. Dimech, C. Failla (90 A. Muscat), R. Briffa (69 S. Bajada), T. Vella, A. Cohen (46 P. Fenech), E. Herrera, A. Schembri.
Referee: Nikolaj Haenni (Swiss FA).
Yellow cards: Failla, Hasler, Wieser, Haber.