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Malta girls put on plucky display against Sweden

MALTA                      0

SWEDEN                  3
Asllani 19; Schough 60
Bjorn 82

MALTA
J. Xuereb, S. Farrugia, C. Zammit, A. Said, A. Sultana, N. Sciberras, S. Zammit, R. Cuschieri, E. Xuereb (65 V. Mifsud), M. Farrugia, B. Borg.

SWEDEN
J. Falk, E. Kullberg, K. Asllani (46 O. Schough), S. Blackstenius (64 L. Hurtig), N. Bjorn, J. Rybrink, J. Roddar (64 A. Nilden), H. Bennison (76 F. Angeldal), J. Rytting, R. Blomqvist (46 M. Larsson), F. Curmark (64 C. Seger).

Referee Maria Sole Ferrieri Caputi (Italian FA).

Yellow cards Blomqvist, Farrugia.

Sweden earned a hard-fought 3-0 victory over a plucky Malta side in their second and final VisitMalta Women’s Trophy game.

Sweden, ranked fifth in the world and semi-finalists in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, forged ahead after 19 minutes with a fortunate deflection by Real Madrid player Kosovare Asllani. The Swedes had to wait until the second half to score two more goals through an Olivia Schough’s direct corner and a Nathalie Bjorn header.

For Mark Gatt, this was his 50th game in charge since taking over in 2015. The Malta coach handed the captaincy to Charlene Zammit for the second straight game while Rachel Cuschieri and Emma Xuereb collecting their 70th and 60th cap respectively.

It was a respectable performance by the Maltese, who are ranked 85th in the FIFA Rankings, despite missing several key players and coming from a 4-0 defeat to Slovakia in their opening game. Sweden had outclassed Austria 6-1 in their first match of the tournament.

Sweden’s first chance on goal came inside the first two minutes when Janice Xuereb denied Asllani from close-range.

The Swedes continued to dominate proceedings, but the Maltese girls remained compact and were closing down all passing channels.

Sweden came close to forge ahead through Johanna Rytting but failed to head home from point-blank range.

Xuereb denied Asllani on 11 minutes when the Real Madrid player attempted an overhead kick but the Birkirkara custodian was alert to avert the danger.

While the Maltese continued to break down Sweden’s attacking moves, the visitors were looking for other solutions with Rebecka Blomqvist attempting a curling effort that just missed the upright.

Nonetheless, the Swedes managed to break the deadlock when Asllani deflected an Emma Kullberg’s shot past Xuereb on the 19th minute.

Malta’s reaction came swiftly after when Shona Zammit fired a shot from the edge of the area but goalkeeper Jennifer Falk managed to block her effort.

The Swedes were pressing high, leaving acres of space behind them as the Maltese were looking to strike on the break, doing so a couple of times with the runs of Brenda Borg and Maria Farrugia behind the lines.

The Scandinavians continued to push for a second, with efforts from Rytting and Stina Blackstenius failing to pay dividends for Sweden.

Despite the technical discrepancy between the two teams, Malta was still managing to create opportunities as Borg let fly a strike from long-range just to see her effort sail over the bar.

At the break, Sweden made a couple of changes with Olivia Schough and Mimmi Larsson coming on as they reshuffled their attacking department.

On the hour mark, Sweden doubled the score when Schough whipped an inswinging corner towards goal which went straight into the net.

Sweden coach Peter Gerardsson was inserting his best players into the field including captain Caroline Seger and Lina Hurtig in search of more goals. The latter, who plays for Juventus struck a header towards goal but Xuereb was alert as the Maltese remained compact and focused midway through the second 45 minutes. Hurtig threatened again, this time hitting the post with another towering header.

Fifteen minutes from time, Nathalie Bjorn missed the target from the penalty box following a corner kick while Hurtig remained Sweden’s biggest aerial threat with another missed header from close-range.

The Swedes found a third from a Bjorn’s penalty after Zammit fouled Larsson inside the box.

Sweden hit the woodwork once again through Bjorn before Hurtig surprisingly failed to capitalise in front of an empty net.

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