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Watch: Vibrant Malta pick up first point after Slovakia fightback

SLOVAKIA       2

Strelek 49; Skriniar 53

MALTA             2

Gambin 16; Satariano 20

Slovakia

D. Kuciak, M. Koscelnik, M. Valjent, M. Skriniar, D. Hancko (38 J. Holubek), P. Hrosovsky (82 I. Schranz), T. Suslov (71 A. Rusnak), J. Kucka (46 D. Strelec), J. Gregus, R. Mak, M. Duris (46 R. Bozenik).

Malta

H. Bonello, S. Borg, E. Pepe, K. Shaw, J. Mbong, R. Camenzuli, E. Teuma (90 B. Kristensen), M. Guillaumier, P. Mbong (67 K. Nwoko), L. Gambin (67 J. Grech), A. Satariano (78 S. Pisani).

Referee Harald Lechner (Austria).

Yellow cards Camenzuli, Duris, Koscelnik, Bonello.

Malta picked up their first point in the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign when they threw away a two-goal lead to share four goals with Slovavia in Trnava last night.

It was another impressive performance from Devis Mangia’s men who surely were left to rue what might have been after taking a stunning two-goal lead after the first half.

However, the Maltese endured a nightmare start to the second half where Slovakia scored two goals in the space of four minutes from a set-piece situation to snatch a point.

Still, the Maltese players deserve a lot of praise for another electrifying display against much stronger opponents as they again approached the game with a fearless approach. In fact, they kept pushing forward throughout and even after seeing their advantage cancelled they still created some clear-cut chances which could have easily seen them snatch the winner.

No doubt, such performance will continue to fill the players with much-needed self-belief ahead of Tuesday’s showdown with mighty Croatia in Rijeka where one hopes the team can continue to defy the odds.

Malta coach Devis Mangia opted to make four changes from the team that face Russia last week.

Enrico Pepe was given the nod to make his first competitive start for Malta as the Birkirkara defender replaced Andrei Agius in three-man defence alongside Steve Borg and Kurt Shaw.

Luke Gambin also made his first appearance in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers as the Newport County attacking midfielder was preferred to Bjorn Kristensen while Paul Mbong started ahead of Jurgen Degabriele. Alex Satariano was given the nod to lead the team’s forward line at the expense of Luke Montebello who had to settle with a place on the bench.

On his part, Slovakia coach Stefan Tarkovic made wholesale changes to the team that featured in a disappointing draw against Cyprus in midweek.

In fact, he kept faith to only four players who started the match on Wednesday, namely Inter defender Milan Skriniar, David Hancko, Patrik Hrosovsky and skipper Juraj Kucka.

As expected it was Slovakia who started on the front foot and after nine minutes of play they came close when from a corner action, Skriniar nodded the ball into the path of Michal Duris who, however, headed over from routine distance.

However, it was Malta who took the lead and what a goal it was.

Joseph Mbong pulled the goal back into the path of Luke Gambin and the attacking midfielder let fly curling strike that flew into the top corner of the net.

The Slovakians looked stunned and Malta managed to add a second goal on 20 minutes. Ryan Camenzuli sent a fine cross towards the unmarked Satariano who headed firmly past Dusan Kuciak.

Slovakia came close to pull a goal back on 27 minutes when Michal Duris beat the offside trap but lobbed the ball just wide with only Bonello to beat.

The Slovakian coach was clearly unhappy with the proceedings and seven minutes from the break he replaced Hancko with Jakub Holubek.

The hosts tried to step up their tempo but for all their possession they failed to create any danger to Malta’s goal until the half-time whistle.

After the break, Slovakia came out firing on all cylinders and managed to expose Malta’s frailties in set-pieces.

Four minutes into the second half, they were awarded a free-kick and Robert Mak picked Skriniar inside the area and the Inter defender’s header was turned past Bonello by David Strelek who had just replaced by Juraj Kucka.

The visitors looked rattled and Slovakia completed their recovery when from another Mak corner-kick, Gregus headed the ball into the path of Skriniar who beat Bonello from close in.

Malta almost restored their lead on 55 minutes when Camenzuli found Satariano who saw his header finish just past the upright.

The visitors were clearly struggling when defending from set-pieces and they almost conceded a third goal from such instances when the Malta defence failed to clear a corner and in came Bozenik who saw his shot cleared off the line by Teuma.

It was Malta who threatened 15 minutes from time when Camenzuli’s cross fell into the path of Jake Grech who was denied by Kuciak.

Three minutes later, Teuma initiated a quick counter attack and he served Kyrian Nwoko who was thwarted by the Slovak goalkeeper.

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