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Ilicic at the double as efficient Slovenia punish sloppy Malta

Slovenia's Josip Ilicic (right) races past Teddy Teuma. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

MALTA            0

SLOVENIA       4

Ilicic 28, 60

Sporar 49; Sesko 67

Malta

H. Bonello, K. Shaw, J. Mbong (68 A. Magri Overend), L. Montebello (80 J. Degabriele), S. Pisani (68 T. Caruana), P. Mbong (56 A. Satariano), E. Pepe, T. Teuma, C. Attard, S. Dimech (56 L. Gambin), Z. Muscat.

Slovenia

J. Oblak, J. Balkovec, J. Ilicic (71 L. Zahovic), S. Lovric (70 J. Stankovic), A. Sporar (61 B. Sesko), J. Kurtic (82 T. Elsnik), M. Mevlja, Z. Karnicnik, B. Verbic (61 D. Crnigoj), A. Cerin.

Referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos (Greece).

Yellow cards J. Mbong, Satariano.

The Malta national team were handed a reality check by a superior Slovenia side after suffering a 4-0 defeat at the National Stadium last night.

For Devis Mangia’s team this was their heaviest defeat in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers and their capitulation last night was the result of a disjointed effort from the home side who were made to pay for a number of defensive mistakes by an efficient Slovenian side who kept alive their hopes of attaining a top-two finish in Group H.

The returning Josip Ilicic was the mastermind behind Slovenia’s dominant display yesterday as the Atalanta midfielder scored a well-taken brace that put his team on their way to a comfortable victory that lifted them to third place in the group on 10 points, to stay six points behind Russia ahead of their direct clash at home to Russia on Monday.

For the Maltese team, the defeat to Slovenia should serve as an eye-opener for the players ahead of their important clash against Cyprus next week which will see the team without two key players in Joseph Mbong and Alex Satariano who will be suspended after picking up a booking last night.

The bright performances against the same Slovenia, Cyprus and Russia may have raised the expectations of the progress attained by the team.

But hopefully, last night’s defeat to Slovenia will help the players to reset their mindset quickly and approach the match against the Cypriots with a bigger motivation to show that the last night’s upset was just a rare slip in their process of becoming a more competitive team at international level.

Malta coach Devis Mangia handed the captain’s armband to Zach Muscat who was preferred to Steve Borg in the team’s three-man defence.

Cain Attard was given the nod to fill the void left by the suspended Ryan Camenzuli while Shaun Dimech was preferred to Jurgen Degabriele.

Slovenia on their part welcomed back in the fray their star player Josip Ilicic who had missed last month’s meeting between the two countries due to suspension.

Malta started brightly and after four minutes of play Joseph Mbong picked Luke Montebello inside the area and the towering forward saw his shot on the turn saved by Jan Oblak.

The Slovenians responded with a long-range shot by Sandi Lovric that was well saved by Henry Bonello.

The hosts created another good chance on eight minutes when another Mbong delivery found Cain Attard at the backpost but the Birkirkara wingback miscued his shot with the ball taking a deflection off a Slovenian defender and finish wide.

Slovenia thought they had taken the lead on 21 minutes when Sandi Lovric hit a low drive past the diving Bonello. However, the ‘goal’ was annulled for a millimetric offside position of the Slovenian midfielder.

But the Slovenians were not to be denied as six minutes later Jure Balkovec sped clear on the right and his low cross was perfectly met by Ilicic who beat Bonello with a low drive.

After that breakthrough, the Maltese seemed to lose a bit of their composure as the Slovenians were easily administering their advantage.

The hosts finally threatened five minutes from the break when Teddy Teuma picked Montebello in space but the Birkirkara forward incredibly headed wide with only Oblak to beat.

After the interval, Slovenia took just four minutes to take a commanding grip on the match when they doubled their advantage.

Jaka Bijol’s throughpass found Lovric who backheeled the ball into the pat of Andraz Sporar who beat Bonello with a thunderous drive.

Mangia tried to bring in some fresh ideas to his team when on 56 minutes he brought on Alex Satariano and Luke Gambin for Paul Mbong and Shaun Dimech.

However, it was Slovenia who all but wrapped up their win and it was no surprise that it was Ilicic that applied the coupe de grace.

The Atalanta midfielder was found in space by Lovric and he ably turned past Zach Muscat before hammering the ball past Bonello.

Despite the three-goal deficit the Maltese kept battling hard and on 64 minutes they were a whisker away from pulling a goal back when Kurt Shaw headed just wide from a Pisani corner.

But there were more woes for the home side on 67 minutes when they were punished for more slack defending as Lovric picked the unmarked Benjamin Sesko, who had just replaced Sporar, to who headed the ball into the far corner.

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