Malta undone by two first half goals in balanced encounterPublished: Wed 13 Sep 2023, 00:59
UEFA EURO 2024 QUALIFIER (GROUP C)
12.09.2023, National Stadium, Ta’ Qali
Disappointment tonight at Ta’ Qali as Malta failed to get off mark against a plucky Macedonia side in a rather balanced encounter. The guests took their chances well, collecting a valuable three points with two first half goals. The Maltese fought hard, but only rarely tested the Macedonian goalkeeper throughout the ninety minutes, despite giving it all on the pitch.
Malta national team coach Michele Marcolini produced three changes when compared to the Friendly outing against Gibraltar (1-0) of last Wednesday. Zach Muscat started instead of Kurt Shaw, while up front, both Jurgen Degabriele and Luke Montebello were replaced by Teddy Teuma and Kyrian Nwoko, with Jodi Jones having a role up front and Teuma dropping occasionally deep. Hibernians Bjorn Kristensen was rewarded with another start, his 40th cap for the Malta national team, while it was the 77th match for captain Steve Borg in the Malta colours, still the most experienced player in number of appearances in the team.
The Macedonians, who held Italy to a one all draw four days ago, started well, and opened the scoring through Napoli midfielder Eljif Elmas in the fifth minute, beating Bonello with a wonderful angled drive from just inside the box. Until the 40th minute, Malta clearly held the initiative but could not produce any shots on target, with Damjan Shiskovski, the Macedonian goalkeeper, having a rather quiet first half. There were some good moves from Teuma and Jones, while Camenzuli on the left and Mbong on the right kept the Macedonian rear-guard on their toes.
Against the run of play, Macedonia doubled in the 41st minute from a corner action. Captain Enis Bardhi delivered the corner with the unmarked Jovan Manev rather easily beating Bonello with a header. On the stroke of half-time, Bonello made a great save from a low Bardhi free-kick, which deceived the Malta wall completely.
With two goals down, Marcolini had to react and brought with Cain Attard, Yannick Yankam and Luke Montebello three substitutions before the start of the second half. Although the hosts threatened right after the break, the Knights kept on finding it difficult to penetrate the Macedonian defence.
On 67 minutes, Ezgjan Alioski hit the post for the guests with an accurate shot from the left. Malta replied three minutes later with a Camenzuli shot which sailed over the crossbar, while Bonello made a splendid save on a Bojan Miovski grounder with ten minutes regular time left to play. A bit later, Camenzuli should have done better at the far post but the Hamrun Spartans winger missed target from an ideal angle. As there was no further action in the remaining time left, Malta had to bow their heads once more in this very tough Euro 2024 qualification group.
Also tonight, at the San Siro, Italy beat Ukraine by the odd goal in three. An important victory for the Azzuri, Malta’s next opponents in Bari next month, who keep on chasing group leaders England, while both Ukraine and North Macedonia remain with qualification chances. After Italy, Malta will play a home match against the Ukraine, while the qualification cycle will come to a close in November against England at Wembley.
Henry Bonello, Steve Borg, Zach Muscat, Enrico Pepe, Ryan Camenzuli, Joseph Mbong (Cain Attard 46), Bjorn Kristensen (Yannick Yankam 46), Teddy Teuma, Matthew Guillaumier (Brandon Paiber 89), Jodi Jones (Luke Montebello 46), Kyrian Nwoko (Paul Mbong 72).
Coach: Michele Marcolini
Damjan Shiskovski, Jovan Manev, Visar Musliu, Ezgjan Alioski, Gjoko Zajkov (Nikola Serafmiov 76), Jani Atanasov (Agon Elezi 76), Enis Bardhi, Elif Elmas, Bojan Moivski (Milan Ristovski 90+2), Isnik Alimi, Bojan Dimoski (Stefan Ashkovski 86).
Coach: Blagoja Milevski
Referee: Henrik Nalbadyan (Armenia)
Yellow cards: Teuma, Borg, Camenzuli (Mlt); Shiskovski, Musliu (NMa)
Images copyright Domenic Aquilina