MALTA: J. Xuereb; E. Lipman, S. Farrugia, D. Theuma, R. Cuschieri, A. Sultana, M. Farrugia, S. Zammit, C. Zammit, B. Borg (85 E. Xuereb), N. Sciberras (46 A. Said).
MONTENEGRO: A. Krstovic; A. Popovic, M. Saranovic, S. Bulatovic (77 N. Durdevac), A. Toskovic (90 M. Maras), N. Stanovic, J. Karlicic, A. Kuc, H. Bozic, M. Desic (73 M. Radunovic), D. Djukic.
Referee: Kateryna Usova (Ukraine FA).
Malta’s women dominated Montenegro but failed to make the pressure count as they fell to a 2-0 defeat in their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier at the Centenary Stadium. The Maltese side was brimming in confidence from the starting whistle, creating also a number of goal-scoring opportunities.
However, the missed chances came back to haunt Malta as Montenegro capitalised on the only opportunities they created in the game with a goal in each half.
Following this victory, Montenegro have cemented third place with nine points while Malta remain fourth with four points after five outings.
For this game, coach Mark Gatt gave the nod to the returning Janice Xuereb between the sticks whereas forward Haley Bugeja, who was also returning from an injury like the Maltese goalkeeper, started from the bench.
In the closing stages of the game, Gatt also handed a debut to Swieqi United defender Jessica Dimech who replaced Stephania Farrugia after the latter picked up an injury of her own.
Malta enjoyed a bright start to the game, controlling the early stages and trying to peg Montenegro back into their own half.
Brenda Borg registered Malta’s first chance of the game when in the 12th minute, Rachel Cuschieri dribbled past a couple of opponents before finding Borg in a good position inside the box but the Mġarr United forward failed to hit the target.
Defender Farrugia had Malta’s second chance of the game dropping on her head but she could not direct the ball into the net from inside the penalty area.
Midway into the first half, Malta survived a scare when Sladjana Bulatovic almost lobbed a ball over goalkeeper Xuereb but Farrugia was alert to avert the danger on the goal line.
Although Malta continued to dictate proceedings, it was Montenegro who drew first blood against all odds when forward Armisa Kuc pounced on a loose ball at the back to fire past Xuereb.
Rachel Cuschieri and Shona Zammit tried to stage an immediate reaction with a flurry of quick chances but could not have the better of the Montenegro goalkeeper as the away side ended the first half leading by one goal to nil.
At the restart, coach Gatt made two changes with Sassuolo forward Bugeja and defender Ann-Marie Said who replaced Shona Zammit and Nicole Sciberras respectively.
Montenegro tried to threaten first in the second 45 minutes with Bulatovic letting fly a shot from the edge of the area but goalkeeper Xuereb managed to keep the attack at bay.
Malta replied through Borg who once again found herself in a brilliant position to try her luck but she could find the target before Bugeja struck a volley from the edge of the area which sailed over the bar.
The home side continued to pile pressure on Montenegro with Sunderland Ladies forward Maria Farrugia attempting a long-range shot but once again could not find the net.
A Dorianne Theuma’s freekick hitting the wall followed by Cuschieri’s rebound into the skies was Malta’s next reaction as the hosts were having the lion’s share of possession, trying to level matters as quickly as possible.
Nonetheless, it was Montenegro who doubled their lead through Helena Bozic who headed home a free-kick to seal the win for her side.
Said and Emma Xuereb tried to cut the deficit to one goal with some late chances but they could not find the net as Montenegro emerged winners from this encounter.
Malta will return in action in an away fixture against Bosnia-Herzegovina, next Tuesday.