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Updated: Resilient Malta stun Armenia

Great win for Malta - Ghedin

ARMENIA-0, MALTA-1

(Adds Pietro Ghedin's comments)

Malta produced a resilient performance to defy the odds after beating Armenia 1-0 for their first win in World Cup qualifying Group B.

Seeking their first point after losing their opening five qualifiers, Malta were given no chance of denying Armenia who were chasing a win to kickstart their faltering World Cup campaign but they were in for a surprise.

Leading through Michael Mifsud's eight-minute opener, Malta weather long spells of Armenian pressure, throwing bodies in the way of shots and crosses to hold on to their advantage.

Mifsud' is likely to grab the headlines after netting the goal that gave Malta their first competitive win away from home since the 1-0 win over Estonia in 1993 but all the players contributed to this famous, hard-earned win, not least goalkeeper Justin Haber who was imperious in goal.

It was anything but easy as Armenia pressed incessantly after falling behind but Malta deserved their luck for a battling display that earned them their first points in this qualifying campaign.

Pietro Ghedin's team selection featured no surprises as he sent out the same team that started the 2-0 home defeat to Italy in March.

In defence, Luke Dimech and Jonathan Caruana occupied the two centre-half roles while Alex Muscat began on the left and Ryan Camilleri on the right.

Roderick Briffa and Gareth Sciberras were deployed in front of the four-man rearguard with Edward Herrera and Clayton Failla on the wings and Andrè Schembri behind captain Michael Mifsud, Malta's lone striker in a traditional 4-2-3-1 approach.

Armenia were the brighter side in the early stages but it was Malta who silenced the home crowd by taking an eighth-minute lead. Malta broke forward with speed as Schembri passed to Sciberras who released the speeding Mifsud who was clean through.

Armenia goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky repelled Mifsud's initial shot but the Malta captain did not miss with his second attempt, lifting the ball high into the net for his 37th goal in international football.

Stunned by Mifsud's opener, Armenia swiftly regained the initiative. They were denied by Haber on 16 minutes as the Malta goalkeeper pushed away a close-range header from Mkrtchyan following a corner.

Malta, sporting white outfits, were quick to switch from defence to attack as Schembri again released Mifsud but this time the Valletta striker was crowded out by the home defenders.

Another fine Malta move unsettled Armenia's defence as the influental Schembri released Herrera on the left. The Birkirkara speedster cut into the box before playing a cross towards the far post where Mifsud and Failla were unmarked by the latter headed over.

Armenia were seeing more of the ball but Malta were dangerous every time they pushed forward on the counter.

At the back, Ghedin's men refused to wilt, Muscat blocking a dangerous shot by Manucharyan before Haber pulled off a brilliant save to tip Pizzelli's looping drive over the bar.

Danger loomed for Malta when, with six minutes of the first half remaining, Mkhitaryan sped into the box after a free-kick was deflected into his path but his diagonal effort was cleared.

Haber did well to fist away Manucharyan's corner but Armenia persisted with their attack. Manucharyan jinked his way into the box before sending in a perfect cross into the six-yard box but Mkrtchyan headed just over.

As the second half got underway, Armenia poured forward in search of an equaliser.

Kamo Hovhannisyan made good progress on the right but his dangerous cross was pawed away by the alert Haber.

The Malta goalkeeper than saved Ozbiliz's grounder from outside the box.

Ten minutes into the second half, Ghedin had to make his first substitution after Sciberras suffered what looked like an arm injury after falling awkwardly. Paul Fenech replaced his Birkirkara team-mate.

Armenia threatened again when Ozbiliz's teasing free-kick sailed into the crowded box and towards goal but Haber showed excellent reflexes by keeping the ball out.

Caruana then headed away another menacing cross from Movsisyan as Armenia upped the pressure.

Artur Sarkisov, who scored Armenia's winner when they beat Malta 1-0 in September, came on for Davit Manoyan. Sarkisov almost emulated his scoring act as, seconds after entering the field, he ran on to Pizzelli's through-ball but his strike hit the base of the near post.

Malta were hanging in. Hovhannisyan accelerated into the box but his effort was blocked by the excellent Haber who repelled everything Armenia were throwing at him.

The Birkirkara goalkeeper frustrated Armenia again with another fine save from Ozbiliz's drive.

Mkhitaryan was wide with a free-kick and, four minutes from time, Voskanyan hit wide after Ozbiliz's corner was deflected into his path.

In stoppage time, Caruana made a timely block to deflect Mkhitaryan's shot over the bar.

Ghedin proud of his players

Ghedin said after the game: "I am proud of the players. This is a great win for Malta against a very strong team who play one touch football.

"We had to suffer a lot because Armenia put us under a lot of pressure but at the same time we could have scored a second goal after Mifsud’s opener."

Sports Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Buontempo and PN spokesman for sports Robert Cutajar congratulated Malta on the result achieved.

Armenia

R. Berezovsky, V. Aleksanyan, T. Voskanyan, R. Arzumanyan, K. Hovhannisyan, D. Manoyan (76 A. Sarkisov), K. Mkrtchyan, A. Ozbiliz, H. Mkhitaryan, M. Pizzelli, E. Manucharyan (46 Y. Movsisyan).

Malta

J. Haber, J, Caruana, G. Sciberras (57 P. Fenech), R. Camilleri, L. Dimech, C. Failla, R. Briffa (85 R. Muscat), M. Mifsud (90+ T. Vella), E. Herrera, A. Schembri, A. Muscat.

Referee Arnold Hunter (N. Ireland).

 

 

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