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Fenech, Effiong score two great goals as Malta beat Lithuania

Photo: Paul Zammit Cutajar, MFA

Photo: Paul Zammit Cutajar, MFA

MALTA-2, LITHUANIA-0

Two stunning goals from Paul Fenech and Alfred Effiong handed Malta a 2-0 win over Lithuania at the National Stadium.

The game took a while to flick into life with Lithuania shading the first half but it was Malta who secured a boost ahead of Friday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Bulgaria thanks to the shooting prowess of Fenech and Effiong who produced arguably two of the best strikes in home international game for the past two decades.

Malta had struggled for pace in the first half but their improvement in the second half, with Rowen Muscat leading the way from midfield, will have pleased coach Pietro Ghedin. 

A much-changed Malta team, owing to injuries to a host of important players, struggled to find some sort of rhythm in a first half in which Lithuania played the better football.

Goalkeeper Justin Haber, replacing for Andrew Hogg who is recovering from a fractured finger, did well to push away Mantas Kuklys's dangerous cross, for a corner, after a Saulius Mikoliunas incursion had been stopped by Zach Muscat.

The ertswhile subdued Malta finally ventured into the Lithunian half as the returning Andrew Cohen sent an inviting cross into the box but Alex Muscat's header was high.

On 24 minutes, Mikoliunas unnerved Malta as the nippy winger, drifting infield in from the left, had the better of Zach Muscat and Rowen Muscat but his progression was cut short by Andrei late tackle. 

Nothing came out of the free-kick as Matulevicius's drive was easily blocked by Haber.

Lithuania won a series of corners in those initial exchanges but failed to make their possession count.

Malta's first telling attack, on 32 minutes, almost yielded an opener. Latching on to Alex Muscat's headed assist, captain Michael Mifsud controlled the ball before running clear but his well-hit drive was marginally wide.

At the other end, Haber again fisted away a Kuklys corner, the ball dropped to Vykintas  Slivka but his screamer was charged down by Zach Muscat.

Four minutes from the start of the second half had passed when Cohen's swerving free-kick was met by Agius but his header was wide.

Lithuania came close to taking the lead seven minutes into the second half as Vytautus Lukja's cross just eluded Matulevcius, with the ball rolling to Mikoliunas whose effort came off a Malta defender.

Ghedin made his first substitution on 56 minutes, Edward Herrera coming on for Alex Muscat. Effiong replaced Cohen on the hour.

The deadlock was broken and it was Malta who scored thanks to Paul Fenech whose stunning drive from outside the box, after Roderick Briffa's corner had been partially clear, gave the Lithuania goalkeeper no chance.

With 10 minutes left, Effiong scored a fantastic goal to wrap up Malta's win. Picking up possession inside Malta's half after winning an aerial duel, Effiong stormed past two defenders as he advanced towards the edge of the box before producing a brilliant shot that left Gertmanas rooted to his spot.

Mikoliunas tried to revive Lithuania's hopes but his low effort was stopped by Haber.

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