Lovric 45 pen.
J. Oblak, P. Stojanovic, J. Bijol, M. Mevlja, J. Balkove, A. Gnezda, J. Kurtic, J. Mlakar (59 M. Zajc), S. Lovric (69 J. Gorenc-Stankovic), D. Bohar (59 D. Cringoj), B. Sesko (69 A. Sporar).
H. Bonello, Z. Muscat, E. Pepe, K. Shaw, C. Attard, T. Caruana (78 S. Pisani), T. Teuma, J. Corbalan (46 R. Camenzuli), J. Mbong (71 L. Gambin), S. Dimech (57 P. Mbong), A. Satariano (57 L. Montebello).
Referee Andris Treimanis (Latvia).
Yellow cards: Kurtic, Satariano, Montebello, Muscat.
Slovenia needed a penalty from Sandi Lovric on the stroke of half-time to edge past a resilient Malta in a World Cup qualifier in Ljubljana on Saturday.
It was somewhat a harsh result on the national team who for long stretches of the match more than matched their opponents and were undone by a controversial penalty decision on the stroke of half-time from which Lovric grabbed a crucial winner for Slovenia who have now moved on the seven-point mark, three adrift of top spot in Group H.
Malta on the other hand remained second from bottom on four points but surely Mangia’s boys left the Ljubljana stadium with their heads held high as they produced another bright showing.
In fact, after a nervous start, the Maltese managed to contain their opponents and also managed to create some clear-cut chances particularly through a Joseph Mbong strike in the first half that could have easily given them the lead.
But their task was made complicated when referee Andris Treimanis harshly adjudged that Enrico Pepe pulled down Miha Mevlja inside the area when TV replays showed there was minimal contact and VAR was not consulted by the official.
After the break, Malta tried to fight back but lacked that punch upfront as the Slovenians held on.
Still, Malta will now look ahead of Tuesday’s clash against Russia in Moscow, where another tough test looms for Mangia’s team but if they can show the same attitude and spirit the team can hold their own against the group leaders.
Malta coach Devis Mangia rang the changes from the team that beat Cyprus 3-0 last Wednesday as he brought on five new players in his starting formation.
Zach Muscat, who plies his trade in Portugal with Casa Pia, was preferred to Steve Borg in the three-man defence while Juan Corbalan started ahead of Ryan Camenzuli.
In midfield, Triston Caruana and Shaun Dimech were included at the expense of Paul Mbong and Steve Pisani while Alex Satariano started at the tip of the forward line ahead of Luke Montebello.
As expected the Slovenians started the match very strongly pressing the Maltese full pitch and on six minutes Bohar created space for himself but his shot finished over.
On 12 minutes, Benjamin Sesko was found in space inside the area but his header flew high and wide.
Ten minutes later, the Maltese defence lost the ball cheaply and Slovenia almost punished them immediately when Sandi Lovric hit first-time on poor Malta clearance but his shot was deflected just past the upright.
Malta had its first attempt on goal on the half-hour mark when from a Teddy Teuma corner kick, Kurt Shaw headed just over
Malta had the best chance of the half on 33 minutes when Joseph Mbong let fly a swerving drive that was fumbled by goalkeeper Jan Oblak but the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper recovered to keep the ball from going beyond the goal-line.
Two minutes from the break, Slovenia were awarded a penalty when Pepe was adjudged to have brought down Mevlja inside the area and from the spot Sandi Lovric sent Bonello the wrong way.
After the interval, Mangia withdrew Corbalan and roped in Ryan Camenzuli as he looked to add more penetration to his team’s attacking play.
Malta started to see more of the ball after the interval as the Slovenians were happy to administer their advantage and try and catch the visitors with fast transitions.
The Maltese had the ball into the Slovenia net on 65 minutes when Luke Montebello fired past Oblak but the assistant referee raised his flag for offside against substitute Paul Mbong.
Slovenia finally came to close to add to their lead ten minutes from time when Petar Stojanovic sent a low cross into the path of Joren Genc-Stankovic who fired well wide.
The Slovenians could have sealed their win with a second penalty three minutes from time when Cain Attard brought down Zajc inside the area but this time Bonello did well to dive to his left to save Andraz Sporar’s shot from the spot.