National team equals record tally of points attained in Euro 2008
Papoulis 6; Sotiriou 80
Muscat 54; Degabriele 90
N. Michael, S. Andreou (78 I Pittas), C. Soteriou, M. Antoniades, M. Demetriou (85 P. Psaltis), G. Kastanos, C. Kyriakou (79 A. Gogic), N. Ioannou, F. Papoulis (85 N. Panagiotou), P. Sotiriou, L. Loizou (60 A, Kakoulli).
H. Bonello (82 J. Galea), Z. Muscat, E. Pepe, S. Borg (57 K. Shaw), R. Camenzuli, T. Teuma, T. Caruana, C. Attard, P. Mbong (70 S. Dimech), J. Grech (70 J. Degabriele), L. Montebello.
Referee Dennis Higler (Netherlands).
Yellow cards Andreou, Demetriou, Teuma, Sotiriou.
A Jurgen Degabriele goal deep into stoppage time earned Malta a gutsy point against Cyprus to not only boost their hopes of avoiding the bottom spot in Group H but also equal their best-ever tally of points in a qualifying campaign.
It looked as though Malta were set to suffer a frustrating defeat when a Pieros Sotiriou goal ten minutes from time put Cyprus 2-1 ahead.
But the Maltese players refused to throw in the towel as despite losing goalkeeper Henry Bonello and defender Steve Borg to injury they kept fighting and their efforts were rewarded with Degabriele’s dramatic equaliser.
The Maltese players should deserve all the praise as they showed great character to fight themselves back into the match after falling behind after only six minutes of play after some sloppy defending.
But gradually they started to impose themselves more into the match and their efforts were rewarded when Zach Muscat headed home the equaliser early in the second half.
From then on, the Maltese looked as though they were growing into the match and started to threaten more the Cypriot defence.
However, it was the home side who struck when in a quick counter-attack it was Sotirou who put Cyprus 2-1 ahead.
But it was Malta who had the final say with Degabriele grabbing the equaliser in the seventh minute of the stoppage time to earn the team a merited point that lifted them to a five-point mark and stay a place above bottom-placed Cyprus and equal their best tally in a qualifying campaign that was previously attained during the Euro 2008.
Still, the most encouraging factor from this match is the never-say-die attitude shown by the Maltese players who will now hope to end their World Cup qualifying campaign on a positive note when they face Croatia and Slovakia.
Mangia made four changes to the team that lost 4-0 to Slovenia. Steve Borg was recalled in the team’s three-man defence at the expense of Kurt Shaw. In midfield, Triston Caruana started ahead of Steve Pisani while Ryan Camenzuli was restored in the right-wing role as Joseph Mbong was serving a one-match ban. Jake Grech was handed a start at the expense of Shaun Dimech.
Malta were off to a poor start as Cyprus took just six minutes to take the lead.
The Maltese struggled to move out with the ball from the back with Triston Caruana’s pass intercepted by Chambos Kyriakou who quickly fed the ball to the unmarked Fotis Papoulis who curled the ball past the diving Henry Bonello.
After that early shock, the Maltese players tried to regroup and managed to carve a couple of half openings in the Cyprus half but the final pass left much to be desired.
Malta finally had their first shot on target on 31 minutes when Luke Montebello served Jake Grech on the right channel but the Hibs midfielder’s shot was too central to trouble Cyprus goalkeeper Neofytos Michael.
Eight minutes from the break, the Cypriot goalkeeper charged out of his goal to intercept a long pass and he headed the ball straight to Montebello. But the Birkirkara forward completely miscued his attempted lob with the ball blocked by the home side’s defence.
After the break, Mangia withdrew Caruana and roped in Steve Pisani as he looked to add more steel to his team’s engine room.
It was Cyprus who created the first chance of the second half when Marious Demetriou sped clear on the right and crossed the ball towards Loizos Loizou who headed wide.
Malta managed to restore parity on 54 minutes. Teuma served Jake Grech whose shot was deflected to a corner. From the resultant flag-kick, Pisani’s cross was met by Zach Muscat who headed firmly into the net. For the Casa Pia defender this was his first-ever goal for the national team.
The red-shirted players suffered a blow on 58 minutes when Steve Borg picked up an injury and was replaced by Kurt Shaw.
Twenty minutes from time, Jurgen Degabriele and Shaun Dimech replaced Jake Grech and Mbong. Degariele almost left his mark when he was picked in space by Montebello but was blocked by Kastanos.
From the corner, taken by Pisani, Michael was lucky to see his poor clearance coming off the upright before the Cypriots cleared.
Cyprus threatened on 76 minutes when Demetriou found Sotiriou who was denied by the diving Bonello.
The home side restored their lead on 79 minutes when Kakkouli saw his shot saved by Bonello and from the rebound Pittas squared the ball to Pieros Sotiriou to fire home.
In this action, Bonello remained grounded with a foot injury and was replaced by Jake Galea.
In stoppage time Malta almost grabbed a dramatic equaliser, when from another Pisani corner kick Teuma’s shot was blocked to a corner.
When it looked as though Cyprus had held on to the win, it was Malta who grabbed the equaliser with practically the final kick of the match.
In the seventh minute of stoppage time, from a Teuma free-kick, the ball was flicked into the net by Degabriele to the delight of the Maltese players who ran to celebrate at the final whistle under the stand where the members of the South End Core fans were kickstarting their celebrations.