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Malta's improved display not enough as Slovenia win 1-0

Mifsud equals Carabott's 122 cap record

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

MALTA - 0

SLOVENIA - 1

An improved performance for Malta was not enough to reward them with their first point in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign as they lost 1-0 to Slovenia at the National Stadium.

Pietro Ghedin, the Malta coach, had promised a more attacking approach and his players did try to push forward but missed two glaring chances in the first half when the score was still goalless.

Slovenia, who had come into this game with five points from their opening three games, were the more creative side and enjoyed more possession but they found it hard to breach Malta's resistance, scoring only one goal early in the second half, but it was sufficient for them to take the three points.

Despite their bold efforts, Malta remain without a point after four games.

Ghedin's starting formation showed four changes from the 2-0 Lithuania defeat.

Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiPhoto: Darrin Zammit Lupi


Sam Magri, who made his senior debut, replaced the suspended and Rowen Muscat came in for the injured Paul Fenech. Luke Gambin, back from suspension, was preferred to Bjorn Kristensen while Ryan Camilleri started at right-back ahead of Steve Borg.

Captain Michael Mifsud earned his 122nd cap for Malta to equal David Carabott's record. The veteran began on the right wing with Andrè Schembri in the centre of attack and Gambin on the left.

There was little between the two teams in the opening stages but a poor clearance from Camilleri handed Slovenia an opening after nine minutes. The ball was deflected to Josip Ilicic, whose grounder from just inside the box rolled past the far post.

Malta would have fallen behind but for three excellent saves from goalkeeper Andrew Hogg who blocked successive effort from Valter Birsa, Milivoje Novakovic and Benjamin Verbic.

Effective pressing from Gareth Sciberras tormented Rene Krhin who overhit his backpass to captain Bostjan Cesar. The latter was outpaced by Schembri in the inside-right channel and the forward supplied a fine cross for the steaming Gambin who just failed to make proper contact with the ball.

Malta wasted a glorious chance to break the deadlock. It was Gambin who sped through the middle before hitting a low shot that was beaten away by Oblak. Schembri, pouncing on the loose ball, looked odds-on to score but his scrambled effort hit the ground and ballooned over the bar.

At the other end, Birsa crossed for Kurtic but his header was saved by Hogg while a long-range drive from Ilic flashed wide.

Ilicic remained Slovenia's most dangerous player. On the stroke of half-time, he drifted into the box from the right, wrong-footing the erstwhile solid Magri but his angled drive came off the side-netting.

Malta were pleased to head for the half-time break with the score still goalless but they conceded two minutes into the second half.

After Hogg had pushed away Ilicic's shot, Jasmin Kurtic grabbed possession on the right and his low cross was turned in by Verbic whose back-heeled flick rolled past Hogg.

Malta were now up against it. A delightful one-two between Ilicic and Novakovic took them into the Malta box but Zach Muscat was alert to snuff out the danger.
Slovenia established control of possession but a flowing Malta move was Mifsud lay the ball back to the marauding Agius but his grounder was off target.

A cross from Birsa was deflected by Agius who sent the ball arching towards goal but Hogg saved.

Ghedin effected his first substitution midway into the second half, sending on Borg for Camilleri. Jean Paul Farrugia, a striker, then came on for Mifsud.

Maltese hopes rose when Farrugia barged his way through before floating a perfect pass to Schembri who sidestepped substitute Boban Jovic but the latter recovered to block the Boavista forward's strike.

A minute from the end, Hogg smothered away Andraz Sporar as Malta's late charge in search of an equaliser failed to produce the desired dividends.

Malta

An. Hogg, S. Magri, J. Zerafa, G. Sciberras, A. Agius, M. Mifsud (77 J.P. Farrugia), L. Gambin, R. Muscat, A. Schembri, R. Camilleri (68 S. Borg), Z. Muscat.

Slovenia

J. Oblak, N. Skubic, M. Samardzic, B. Cesar, R. Krhin, J. Ilicic, J. Kurtic, V. Birsa (72 N. Omladic), M. Novakovic (83 A. Sporar), D. Trajkovski (63 B. Jovic), B. Verbic.

Referee Pawel Raczkowski (Poland).

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