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Second-half heartache for Malta as Iceland win 2-0

Mifsud becomes country's most-capped player after making 123rd appearance

Michael Mifsud set a new record after coming on in the second half to earn his 123rd cap but the evening ended on a disappointing note for the Malta captain and his team-mates as they suffered a 2-0 defeat to Iceland in a friendly match.

Coming from a bad run of results, the most recent being the 1-0 defeat to Slovenia in a 2018 World Cup qualifier last Friday, Malta were keen to wrap up their commitments for this year in heartening fashion and, for most of the first half, their chances of beating Iceland looked promising as they played some flowing, entertaining football, but a goal just over a minute into the second half spoiled their evening.

Iceland, who fielded a host of fringe players, eventually scored a second late on to close what has been a fantastic year with a win as the hosts struggled to make a reaction after falling behind so early in the second half.

No wonder Malta coach Pietro Ghedin, who has come under fire in recent weeks, had an incredulous look on his face for much of the second half as his team conceded another defeat despite producing arguably one of their best performances of late in the opening period.

Ghedin made three changes from the Slovenia defeat as Steve Borg, Clayton Failla and Alfred Effiong were back inder starter's orders.

Captain Mifsud, keen to eclipse David Carabott's record of 122 Malta caps, started on the bench.

Malta were lively throughout the first half, constantly seeking to press forward in search of a goal but Iceland, who presented themselves with an experimental formation that was nonetheless made up entirely of foreign-based players, also had their moments.

Clayton Failla, pouncing on a deflection after Luke Gambin's run had opened up the Iceland defence, sailed high and wide.

Striker Vidar Kjartansson blasted over after cutting in from the right on 18 minutes.

A defensive blunder in the Iceland box after goalkeeper Ingvar Jonsson had miscued a backpass saw Gareth Sciberras recover possession before serving to the unmarked Schembri who lost precious time after opting to hold the ball instead of shooting immediately.

At the other end, Kjartansson nodded marginally high from Rugar Sigurjonsson's corner.

The game opened up.

Malta appealed for a penalty when Effiong, latching on to to Schembri's intelligent pass, appeared to have been pulled down by Sverrir Ingason but Northern Irish referee Arnold Hunter was unimpressed.

The home side's performance augured well as the first half moved past the half-hour mark.

Goalkeeper Andrew Hogg made an excellent save to beat away Omarsson's stooping header from Smarason's cross after good work by Kjartansson.

From the ensuing corner, taken by Ari Freyr Skulason, Holmar Eyjolfsson's header was cleared off the line by Gambin who went close at the end moments later but his angled drive was wide.

As in the qualifier against Slovenia, Malta suffered a setback early after the break as Arnor Ingvi Traustason surprised Hogg with a low strike from just inside the box.

Nine minutes into the second half, the home crowd rose to applaud Mifsud as the striker replaced Effiong to set a new record of 123 Malta caps.

Sciberras was wide with a well-hit drive from outside the box.

It took Malta some time to come to terms with Iceland's unexpected breakthrough so early in the second half.

Schembri had in a good one-two with Mifsud but the Malta captain sent his shot wide after racing into the box from the left.

Ghedin's men stepped up their game.

Advancing through the middle, Sciberras served Mifsud on the right who in turn laid the ball back for Gambin whose shot was deflected away for a corner.

Ryan Camenzuli, on a second-half substitute, also went close but his half-volley dropped wide.

But, Malta's hopes of an equaliser vanished when Iceland doubled their lead, Ingason guiding a glancing header into the far corner from substitute Gudmundsson's corner.

The game was now over as a contest.

With six minutes remaining, Malta should have revived their hopes as Camenzuli's corner from the left was met by Magri but the Dover defender sent his header over the crossbar.

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