Update 2: Brave Malta make Denmark sweat
A goal down after barely two minutes, Malta showed great resilience and played some neat football to grab a deserved equaliser late in the first half but their fine performance went unrewarded as Denmark sneaked a 2-1 victory at the National Stadium.
A narrow defeat to a strong team like Denmark is normally regarded as an acceptable result for Malta but that was not the case this evening as Pietro Ghedin’s team didn’t deserve to lose.
A 4-0 home defeat to Armenia had turned up the heat on Denmark to beat Malta and revive their fading hopes of reaching the 2014 World Cup play-offs. They were the favourites to gain the three points against the Group B minnows but their task was certainly anything but easy.
Inspired by the excellent Andre Schembri, Malta not only scored a fine equaliser thanks to Clayton Failla’s exquisite free-kick but created other chances, also hitting the woodwork just before Denmark hit their winning goal.
Despite the defeat, Malta can definitely look forward with optimism to Tuesday’s home qualifier against Bulgaria.
Ghedin sprung a surprise by selecting Rowen Muscat after he had indicated that Jacob Borg or Justin Grioli would replace the suspended Alex Muscat at right-back.
As Rowen Muscat is a midfielder, Roderick Briffa dropped to right-back behind John Mintoff who was also handed starting role in Malta’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
An already uphill task for Malta became steeper after Denmark went ahead inside the opening two minutes. Martin Braithwaite made headway on the left before sending in a low pass into the box and Leon Andreasen fired his shot past the helpless Haber.
Braithwaite’s swift movement was making life difficult for Briffa. On 10 minutes, the Toulouse winger supplied another teasing cross but the incoming Rasmus Falk arrived a fraction late as the Malta players closed him down.
The early goal was a boost for Denmark who stayed in control without really threatening to add to their lead.
A misunderstanding between Simon Kjaer and goalkeeper Stephan Andreasen almost gifted Malta a goal on 16 minutes. A cross by Briffa was nodded backward by Kjaer and past the on-rushing Andersen with the ball falling to Schembri at the near post. The latter’s effort was pushed away for a corner by Andersen who had dashed back to the goal-line to close down the angle for Schembri.
With Mifsud marshalled by two towering centre-halves in Liverpool’s Daniel Agger and Kjaer, who plays for Lille, the Malta midfielders and wide players needed to push forward and pass the ball quickly to improve their attacking threat.
A swift passing move by Malta unsettled the Danes as Schembri released Mifsud who turned well to create space before being dispossessed by Kjaer. Malta’s penalty claims were turned down shouts of penalty by the home crowd by Greek referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos.
Malta were now playing better. They were thwarted by Andersen 11 minutes from half-time as the Danish goalkeeper beat away Mifsud’s close-range effort after another fine run by Schembri.
Three minutes later, Malta equalised to the evident delight of the fans.
They won a free-kick just outside the box after Kjaer tripped Schembri and Failla curled his shot delightfully to beat the div9ing Andersen.
At the other end, Briffa headed away Lars Jacobsen’s cross from the right but Malta continued to pose problems every time they went forward.
Two minutes from half-time, Schembri floated a pass to Mifsud who ran into the box only to blast his shot over the bar when he could have served Herrera who was unmarked at the far post.
Ghedin made no changes at half-time. Malta were unlucky not to forge ahead five minutes into the second half when Briffa’s cross was met by Mifsud but his header hit the crossbar.
Two minutes later, the ball was in the net but it was Denmark who scored. Eriksen showed why Tottenham Hotspur have signed him from Ajax as he breezed into the box from the left, went past Briffa and Haber before firing a rising shot that came off the underside of the crossbar and into the net after glancing off Camilleri who made a desperate attempt to clear.
Haber then saved from Krohn-Dehli as the Danes upped their game but Malta improved as the second half progressed.
On 65 minutes, Mifsud produced one of his trademark runs, sweepinh past Jacobsen and Agger as he raced into the box but his fierce strike sailed past the far post.
With 14 minutes remaining, Ghedin threw on Ryan Fenech for Mintoff.
When Malta surrendered possession in Denmark’s half, Olsen’s men sensed an opportunity to break on the counter but Krohn-Dehli’s diagonal shot was stopped by Haber.
Terence Vella replaced Mifsud nine minutes from time as Ghedin tried to freshen up things.
In the closing stages, Fenech stormed forward after cutting out a pass in midfield before serving Schembri but in came Kjaer to push the ball away for a corner.
J. Haber, G. Sciberras, A. Agius, C. Failla, R. Briffa, M. Mifsud (81 T.
Vella), E. Herrera (90 A. Cohen), A. Schembri, J. Mintoff (76 R.
Fenech), R. Muscat, R. Camilleri.
S. Andersen, L. Andreasen (72 C. Sloth), S. Kjaer, D. Agger, N.
Boilesen, L. Jacobsen, W.K. Jorgensen, C. Eriksen, M.C. Braithwaite (84 V. Fischer), N. Pedersen, R. Falk (46 M. Krohn-Dehli).
Referee A. Sidiropoulos (Greece).