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Leaders Kosovo survive scare to down Malta

Vedat Muriqi (centre) wins this aerial challenge with Andrei Agius. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Vedat Muriqi (centre) wins this aerial challenge with Andrei Agius. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

KOSOVO        3

Kololli 30, 81

Muriqi 68

MALTA           1

Agius 51

A brief positive spell in the second half was not enough for the Malta national team as a commanding display from Kosovo earned them a 3-1 victory at the Fadil Vokrri stadium in Pristina.

The result left Malta bottom of Group D3 with just point and with another away fixture in two days' time, against Azerbaijan, a last place finish looks more likely, especially since Ray Farrugia won’t have Michael Mifsud available for selection after he was sent off. 

Kosovo’s biggest threat was Edon Zhegrova, who plies his trade at Genk, as his dribbling ability and speedy pace enabled Kosovo to have a numerical advantage in the third quarter of the field. 

It was not a surprise that Kosovo’s first shot on target came from Zhegrova’s feet, on 12 minutes. The Genk player beat his marker with pace and blasted a low drive from the edge of the area but Andrew Hogg was alert to avert the danger. 

Kosovo’s pressing was increasing and it was a matter of time before they would sneak behind Malta’s defensive line.

Valon Berisha attempted his luck from a close-range free-kick, only to be denied by Hogg. Moments later, Mergim Vojvoda found a breakthrough in Malta’s backline but the onrushing Hogg managed to clear the danger away. 

Nonetheless, Kosovo drew first blood on the half-hour mark through Benjamin Kololli, who grabbed his first international goal.

With a great sense of positioning, Lazio’s Berisha unlocked Kololli who came on darting inside the box and from a tight angle, slotted the ball past Malta’s custodian.

The home side will have been gutted for not extending their lead in the first half as despite their numerous occasions, in particular Zhegrova’s effort which struck the crossbar before being cleared into corner. 

The Kosovo crowd thought their team had managed to double the score just before the half-time whistle when Vedat Muriqi headed the ball home, however the goal was disallowed for an offside position as Malta ended the first 45 minutes trailing by a goal to Kosovo.

In the second half, Ray Farrugia’s pep talk had an immediate impact as the team looked transformed. In the early stages, the Maltese players were covering more area on the field especially on the flanks which were exposed due to Kosovo’s rushing pressure and looked much more lucid when on the ball.

Gżira United’s Juan Corbalan looked more lively now as he was targeting his markers in one on one situations, injecting further more courage into the side.

Such courage allowed Malta to level terms on 52 minutes.

Failla sent a whipped corner kick on which Andrei Agius connected with a towering header to send the ball into the back of the net. 

Nonetheless, Challandes’ side still managed to find a way to make the crowd erupt with joy when a deflection inside the box dropped the ball on Muriqi’s feet and the latter, all alone in the box, shifted his body in front of Hogg and struck a low drive. 

More misery was in store for Malta as 20 minutes from time, he gave the marching orders to Mifsud for a second booking.

Ten minutes from time, Kosovo found a third through Kololli who blasted a first timer from the edge of the area to all but seal the victory for home side as Malta were condemned to yet another defeat.

 

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