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Watch: Gutsy Malta undone by defensive mistakes against Russia

Malta's Steve Pisani (right) tackles Aleksey Ionov, of Russia. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

RUSSIA            2

Smolov 11; Bakaev 84 pen.

MALTA            0


Guilherme, D. Kuzyaev, I. Diveev, M. Osipenko, V. Karavaev, A. Erokhin (46 R. Zobnin), D. Barinov, A. Miranchuk (57 I. Samoshnikov), A. Ionov (78 R. Zhemaletdinov), F. Smolov (70 A. Zabolotny), A. Zakharyan (46 Z. Bakhaev).


H. Bonello, S. Borg, A. Agius (88 K. Shaw), Z. Muscat, R. Camenzuli, T. Teuma (85 T. Teuma), S. Pisani (65 T. Caruana), C. Attard (75 S. Dimech), P. Mbong, J. Mbong, L. Montebello (65 A Satariano).

Referee Ali Palabiyik (Turkey).

Yellow cards A. Miranchuk, Borg, Camenzuli.

Russia needed a goal in each half to overcome Malta at the Otkyrtie Arena in Moscow on Tuesday.

The Russians may have taken the three points on the night but there is no doubt that the Maltese players deserve all the plaudits for another eye-catching performance against the 2018 World Cup quarter-finalists.

In fact, the Maltese managed to share the exchanges with the Russians for much of the match and it had to be a defensive mistake from Steve Borg that handed the home side the opener on a plate.

Highlights from the first half between Malta and Russia. Video: TVM

Usually, one would expect the Maltese team to lose their plot but Mangia’s men gradually started to get into the picture and not only did they manage
to contain their opponents’ threat but they had at least two clear-cut chances which could have yielded them an equaliser.

After the break, the Maltese kept piling the pressure on Russia and it had to be a smart save from Russian goalkeeper Guilherme to deny the Maltese their leveller.

As the minutes passed, the Maltese players’ physical fitness started to dip with the result that the Russians started to pile up the pressure and managed to double their lead from a dubious penalty.

But despite the defeat, coach Mangia should be proud of his players who managed to more than hold their own against superior opponents and although the team failed to pick up points they again showed that they are growing as a team with every match they play and surely a bright future lies in store for these players if they continue to work hard.

Malta coach Devis Mangia turned on experienced defenders Andrei Agius and Steve Borg who replaced the injured Enrico Pepe and Kurt Shaw. Ryan Camenzuli started ahead of Juan Corbalan.

Highlights from the second half between Russia and Malta. Video: TVM

Steve Pisani returned in midfield at the expense of Triston Caruana while Paul Mbong was preferred to Shaun Dimech while upfront, Luke Montebello started ahead of Alex Satariano.

Malta regaled the Russians an opener after 11 minutes when Steve Borg’s backpass towards goalkeeper Henry Bonello was too short and in came skipper Fedor Smolov who anticipated the Malta custodian and slotted the ball into the net.

Despite this early setback, the Maltese players remained calm and still tried to produce some sort of a reaction.

In fact, the white-shirted players started to enjoy more ball possession and constant movement of Joseph Mbong and Paul Mbong were opening some spaces in the Russian defence.

On 14 minutes, Paul Mbong showed great skill to turn past his marker but his rising shot finished over.

Ten minutes later, Bonello had to be alert to push away Smolov’s shot from inside the area.

Three minutes later, Malta came close to an equaliser when from a Steve Pisani free-kick, the ball fell into the path of Andrei Agius who was unlucky to see his thumping volley blocked by a Russian defender that avoided a certain goal.

Another poor back pass, this time from Zach Muscat, almost proved costly when Bonello somehow served Borg who was dispossessed by Smolov who then fired over.

Eight minutes from the break, Ryan Camenzuli tried his luck from the distance but the ball flew just over.

On the stroke of half-time, Malta were unlucky not to draw level when Montebello intercepted a short back-pass from Daler Kuzyaev and with Guilherme out of his goal the Birkirkara forward tried to lob the ball over the goalkeeper with the ball skimming past the upright.

Malta started the second half on the offensive and on 48 minutes, Joseph Mbong hit a fierce drive that was pushed away by Guilherme.

The visitors were piling up their pressure on the home side as they were dominating possession and looking to find openings in the Russian defence.

Russia coach Valeri Kharpin was clearly not happy with his players and that culminated in the former international making three changes in the opening ten minutes of the second half as he looked to add more steel to his team’s engine room.

On the hour, Guilherme produced a miracle save when Camenzuli found Montebello who quickly squared the ball towards Joseph Mbong who saw his click somehow kept out by the Russian goalkeeper.

On 65 minutes, Mangia withdrew Montebello and Pisani and roped in Satariano and Triston Caruana as he looked to add fresh energy to the Maltese team.

The Russians finally threatened on 70 minutes when Smolov turned past two Maltese defenders but his effort was blocked by Bonello.

Fatigue was creeping among the Maltese players and on 76 minutes the visitors were lucky not to commit an own goal when Zach Muscat miscued his backpass towards goalkeeper Bonello but luckily the ball flew wide.

Eight minutes from time, Russia were awarded a penalty when Camenzuli was harshly adjudged to have blocked Kuzyaev’s shot and from the spot Bakaev sent Bonello the wrong way to double his team’s lead.

In stoppage time, the Russians almost added a third but Osipenko’s shot was cleared off the line by substitute Nikolai Muscat.



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