Busuttil 58; Guillaumier 74
SAN MARINO 0
H. Bonello, J. Borg (69 Z. Muscat), S. Borg, M. Guillaumier (87 N. Muscat), J. Mbong (46 J. Mbong), J. Degabriele, B. Paiber, E. Pepe (90 F. Apap), A. Satariano, D. Vella (46 J. Busuttil), A. Magri Overend.
E. Benedettini, M. Cevoli, D. Rossi, M. Palazzi, A. D’Addario (69 T. Zafferani), L. Lunadei, M. Battistini (95 L. Censoni), A. Golinucci, L. Ceccaroli (69 F. Tomassini), D. Rinaldi (80 J. Hirsch), N. Nanni (85 M. Bernardi).
Referee: Aliyar Aghayev (Azerbaijan).
Yellow cards Mbong, Satariano, Rossi, Golinucci, Paiber.
Malta were off to a winning start in the UEFA Nations League when they scored two fine second-half goals to see off a stubborn San Marino side in Serravalle on Sunday.
It looked as though the Maltese were set for a frustrating afternoon when they found the going tough for much of the opening 45 minutes to break down a solid San Marino defence as they seemed to lack that spark that would enable them to find the breakthrough.
But after the break, Mangia’s decision to rope in Jan Busuttil and Juan Corbalan turned out to be the masterstroke.
In fact, Floriana forward Jan Busuttil produced a moment of magic to score a brilliant opener before Corbalan then produced the assist for Matthew Guillaumier to head home the second goal that earned Malta a very important win.
The win lifted Malta to the top of the Group D2 alongside Estonia with three points, but more importantly will be a huge injection of confidence ahead of Thursday’s crucial showdown with the former Soviet Republic at the National Stadium.
After fielding several fringe players in the midweek friendly against Venezuela, Malta coach Devis Mangia reverted to his strongest formation.
Jean Borg, Steve Borg and Enrico Pepe formed the three-man defence.
The Italian handed a competitive debut to Adam Magri Overend as the Floriana wingback filled the void on the flank left by his former club team-mate Ryan Camenzuli who was serving a one-match ban with Joseph Mbong operating on the right flank.
Matthew Guillaumier and Dunstan Vella formed the central midfield partnership with Brandon Paiber handed a starting berth in the absence of the suspended Teddy Teuma and was positioned just behind front duo Alex Satariano and Jurgen Degabriele.
Malta started on the front foot and after four minutes Joseph Mbong used his pace to surge inside the area with the ball cleared by the San Marino defence into the path of Matthew Guillaumier whose volley flashed wide.
On 12 minutes, the visitors came even closer when Paiber chested the ball into the path of Vella inside the area but the Hibs midfielder hit just wide.
With San Marino defending deep, the Maltese were struggling to make inroads with poor distribution of the ball in the final third hampering their hopes of breaking through the home side’s defence.
Malta finally threatened on 33 minutes when Magri Overend fed Paiber whose fierce volley was blocked by Benedettini.
Frustration was visible on the faces of the Maltese players who were finding it tough to impose their game as their playing rhythm was too slow to create any danger to the visitors’ defence.
After the break, Mangia withdrew Mbong and Vella and roped in Juan Corbalan and Jan Busuttil as he looked to add more energy and flair to his forward line.
Corbalan was soon on the thick of the action as five minutes into the second half he turned past his marker and his shot was saved by Benedettini.
On 55 minutes referee Aliyar Aghayev ordered a penalty when Nanni fell under pressure from Steve Borg inside the area but following a VAR review the decision was overturned to the relief of the visitors.
There was more misery for the home side as three minutes later Malta took the lead and what a goal it was.
Guillaumier fed the ball to Jan Busuttil who was in space and the Floriana forward moved past his marker and placed the ball into the far net.
After that goal, the Maltese players were playing more confidently with San Marino struggling to make any inroads.
Malta went on to seal the three points 16 minutes from time when Corbalan sent a fine cross into the path of Guillaumier who anticipated the onrushing Benedettini and head the ball home.
Two minutes from time, Satariano came close to putting his name on the scoresheet when he turned past his marker and his curling drive whizzed past the upright.
But that little mattered as the Maltese were long home and dry.