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Early goals pave way for comfortable Greece victory in low-key encounter

Published: Tue 11 Jun 2024, 22:16
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11.06.2024, Das Goldberg Stadion, Grödig, Austria

(HT 2-0)

 1-0 Bakasetas, pen, 7, 2-0 Tzolis 15.

Two early goals paved the way for a 2-0 victory for our Mediterranean counterparts Greece in a low-key end of season Friendly in Austria. It was important for our national team to restore some pride after the disappointing 7-1 loss against a powerful Czech Republic side last Friday. Although the Greeks dominated the fixture, the Maltese were well-organized in defence and surely created some goalscoring opportunities, especially after the break with the match becoming rather cagy in the end.  

When compared to last Friday’s game, Malta coach Michele Marcolini changed his starting eleven on several positions. In fact, only Ryan Camenzuli, Jean Borg, Matthew Guillaumier, Teddy Teuma and Paul Mbong kept their place while Sliema Wanderers goalkeeper Rashed Al-Tumi was awarded his first start. Up front, Jurgen Degabriele returned to the team after more than eight months as the previous cap of the Hibernians striker was the home Friendly against Gibraltar last September. Guillaumier was wearing the Malta national team captain’s armband for the seventh time in his career. The most capped Maltese in the starting line-up was centre-back Zach Muscat, who played his 67th full international match, while Luke Tabone made his debut for Malta when coming on as a late substitute for Jean Borg.

The Greeks, who lost to Georgia after penalties in the Euro 2024 Play-Off Final in March, started with three players of Olympiakos, who won the UEFA Europa Conference League last month. Vangelis Pavlidis, joint top scorer of the Dutch EreDivisie, started up front.

The match started in similar fashion then the one against the Czechs as Malta conceded a penalty early in the game. On seven minutes, Al-Tumi dived to the feet of Pavlidis in the box, who thankfully made the most out of the slim contact with the Austrian referee pointing at the spot. Captain Tasos Bakasetas’ spot-kick was not the best one but still had enough power to beat Al-Tumi. The nightmare start for Malta continued as on 15 minutes, Greece doubled. Teuma fumbled the ball just outside of the box from a Nikolai Muscat pass, with Pavlidis serving the unmarked Christos Tzolis, who buried home high with an unstoppable top corner strike.

Malta’s first opportunity arrived just after the half hour mark. Dimitris Kourbelis lost the ball half-way his own half to Teuma, serving Paul Mbong whose shot was paraded by debutant goalkeeper Kostas Tsolakis, turning the effort into a corner before Teuma arrived for a possible rebound.   

The Reds managed to settle down in the last part of the first half and also signed for the first opportunity after the break when on 56 minutes, Corbalan served Nikolai Muscat, who saw his attempt from the edge of the box go wide. Greece did threaten but were rather sloppy in their final pass and touches, allowing Malta to set up some neat attacks. However, Greece kept on insisting for a third and on the hour, penalty scorer Bakasetas missed from close-range while nearly ten minutes after, Tzolis blasted high from a similar angle. Not much later, Al-Tumi did well to turn another Bakasetas attempt into a corner, as the young shot-stopper grew in confidence.  

Malta came again close on 75 minutes when Kyrian Nwoko sent Kemar Reid away on the left flank, with Reid crossing well to Nikolai Muscat, whose header was cleared from the like by Dinos Koulierakis with Tzolakis beaten. Five minutes later, a 20-meters distance scorcher by Nwoko was turned into a corner by Tzolakis, which was practically the last chance of the match as the game offered not much more towards the very end.

Malta played nine official international games during season 2023/24, winning one against Gibraltar, two draws including a prestigious one against Euro 2024 side Slovakia and suffered six defeats including the matches against Italy, England, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, four nations who also will participate in the final Euro 2024 tournament this summer.

Konstantis Tzolakis (Christos Mandas 81), Manolis Saliakis (Theocharis Tsingaras 81), Dinos Koulierakis, Panos Retsos (Andreas Ntoi 73), Giorgios Kyriakopoulos, Petros Mantalos (Giannis Kotsiras 61), Dimitris Kourbelis, Tasos Bakasetas, Christos Tzolis, Giorgios Masouras (Dimitris Limnios 61), Vangelis Pavlidis (Tasos Douvikas 61).
Coach: Nikolaos Papadopoulos

Rashed Al-Tumi, Juan Corbalan, Kurt Shaw, Zach Muscat, Jean Borg (Luke Tabone 89), Ryan Camenzuli, Nikolai Muscat (Dunstan Vella 89), Matthew Guillaumier, Teddy Teuma, Paul Mbong (Kyrian Nwoko 72), Jurgen Degabriele (Kemar Reid 46).
Coach: Michele Marcolini

Alan Kijas (Austria)

Images copyright Domenic Aquilina