Maya Lucia scored a wonderful strike in the second half to hand Malta a well-deserved 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland in the opening game of the U-19’s European Championship qualifications.
Round 2 of this tournament has pitted Malta against Northern Ireland – hosting the tournament, Azerbaijan and Faroe Islands.
For this competition opener, coach Frank Schembri fielded his strongest formation with Giulia D’Antuono between the sticks. Captain Alexandra Gatt and Tammy Falzon formed the central defensive line while Birkirkara pair Martina Fenech and Mariah Cardona were deployed as fullbacks.
Maya Lucia marshalled the midfield with Veronique Mifsud and Michaela Cachia aiding her behind the attacking trio composed by Yulya Carella, Kailey Willis and Emma Ciantar Piccinino.
As expected, hosts Northern Ireland started on the front foot in search of an early lead and take command of the game.
They created numerous chances in the first half including an Eve Reilly header inside two minutes which went wide from Giulia D’Antuono’s goal.
Skipper Fionnuala Morgan tried her luck with a long-range freekick but faild to hit the target.
Malta goalkeeper D’Antuono was forced in action by Reilly when she fired a strike that the Raiders Lija custodian had to divert into corner.
The Maltese girls offered a timid reply through a Maya Lucia’s long-range strike but it was not dangerous enough to threaten the hosts.
Despite Northern Ireland dominating for long spells of the game, it was the Maltese who almost forged ahead when Kailey Willis pounced on a loose ball before letting fly a shot from long distance just to be denied by the crossbar.
Northern Ireland replied with another Morgan freekick before Cora Chambers lifted a point-blank range effort over the bar.
The hosts continued to pile the pressure on the Maltese until they managed to break the deadlock five minutes from half-time. Cora Morgan had an effort on goal blocked by D’Antuono before Chambers capitalised on the rebound to put her nation ahead before half-time.
After the interval, Malta’s Willis had another attempt on goal but Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper denied her.
However, the Northern Ireland custodian could do nothing when Maya Lucia hit a stunning strike that levelled terms for the Maltese.
Frank Schembri’s side were now buoyed by their goal and were brimming in confidence, with Northern Ireland’s pressure starting to fade as time went by.
In the closing stages, Northern Ireland tried to stage a late rally in search of a winner with D’Antuono coming to the rescue with a brilliant save on Ellie-Mae Dickson in stoppage time.
Malta stayed compact enough to secure an important draw that bodes well for the rest of the tournament.
Malta will meet Azerbaijan in Saturday’s game, at 3pm (Malta time). Azerbaijan defeated Faroe Islands 2-0 in their tournament opener.
L. Woods; K. Mcconell, F. Morgan, S. Davis, E. Haughey, H. Parker (75 E. Montgomery), C. Morgan (75 G. Mckimm), T. Bell, C. Chambers, E. Reilly (85 K. Dickson), D. Boyle (59 E. Dickson).
Coach: Alfie Wylie.
G. D’Antuono; M. Cardona, A. Gatt, T. Falzon, M. Fenech, E. Ciantar (46 S. Vella Barbieri), M. Lucia (90 M. Cortis), M. Cachia, V. Mifsud, K. Willis (81 I. Mifsud), Y. Carella (85 I. Farrugia).
Coach: Frank Schembri.
Referee: Rob Hennessy (Ireland FA).
Scorers: Chambers 40, Lucia 52.