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Muscat’s goal keeps alive Malta’s promotion aspirations

Zach Muscat (left) scored the winner as Malta beat San Marino. Photo; Domenic Aquilina

MALTA            1

Muscat 50

SAN MARINO 0

Malta

H. Bonello, R. Camenzuli, F. Apap (77 J. Borg), M. Guillaumier, J. Mbong, L. Montebello (86 A. Satariano), B. Paiber (77 D. Vella), E. Pepe, T. Teuma, L. Gambin (70 J. Degabriele), Z. Muscat.

San Marino

E. Benedettini, A. D’Addario (77 T. Zafferani), M. Palazzi, L. Ceccaroli (78 J. Hirsch), M. Battistini, N. Nanni, D. Rossi, A. Grandoni (60 D. Rinaldi), F. Fabbri, D. Tomassini (60 M. Mularoni), L. Lunadel (84 M. Vitaoili).

Referee D. Higler (Netherlands).

Yellow cards Lunadel, Battistini, Zafferani.

The Malta national team bounced back from their midweek defeat to Estonia when they edged past San Marino at the National Stadium.

It was far from a vintage performance from Devis Mangia’s team who struggled to impose themselves against their less-quoted opponents, particularly in the first half where the team failed to register a single shot on target.

But things improved after the break and their efforts were rewarded on 50 minutes with a fine goal from Zach Muscat that put the team in the driving seat.

From then on, Malta dominated the match, created a series of scoring chances but failed to kill off their opponents with a second goal that would put the game to bed but the home side held on to their lead to pick up three valuable points that keeps them still with an outside chance of promotion.

In fact, the Maltese have now joined Estonia at the top of the standings with six points, albeit they have played a game more.

Malta’s promotion hopes rest on their final fixture of the group, away to Estonia in Tallinn on September 23, where the team must win with a two-goal margin if they are to seal an historic promotion to League C.

Malta coach Devis Mangia made four changes from the team that lost to an injury-time goal to Estonia on Thursday.

Ferdinando Apap and Zach Muscat were drafted in a three-man defence alongside Enrico Pepe with Steve Borg and Jean Borg dropped to the bench.

Teddy Teuma, Matthew Guillaumier and Brandon Paiber formed the team’s engine room with Luke Gambin starting ahead of Alex Satariano who started among the substitutes.

Luke Montebello was given the nod to start upfront ahead of Jurgen Degabriele.

There was an emotional moment prior to kick off as MFA president Bjorn Vassallo presented flowers to the wife of former MFA kit manager Mark Piscopo, who passed away earlier this week, while skipper Steve Borg put a bouquet of flowers on the place he used to sit during international matches. A minute silence was also served in his memory.

The match was a cagey affair in the opening stages with Malta dominating possession but rarely testing the San Marino goal.

On the other hand, San Marino were operating on the counter attacks but looked short of any ideas up front.

The first scoring chance arrived on 20 minutes when Ryan Camenzuli sent a cross towards Luke Montebello but goalkeeper Elia Benedettini anticipated the Malta forward.

A minute later, Camenzuli came close with a shot from the edge of the area that whizzed just past the upright.

Malta’s best chance arrived on 29 minutes when Teuma found himself in space inside the area and quickly squared the ball to Montebello who fired over.

The Maltese were piling up the pressure now and a minute later Mbong connected with Camenzuli’s shot but fired over.

San Marino’s first attempt arrived on 39 minutes but Ceccaroli’s shot finished wide.

At the end, Teuma tried his luck from the distance but his effort finished just over.

Malta started the second half with more energy and they finally got the breakthrough on 50 minutes when Camenzuli sent a cross onto the near post and Zach Muscat dived at full stretch to head the ball past Benedettini.

Seven minutes later, Malta charged forward in a quick transition with Guillaumier playing Mbong in space and the Ħamrun winger seeing his cross-shot turned away by Benedettini.

The Maltese thought they had doubled their lead on 64 minutes when Muscat connected to Guillaumier’s delivery from a corner with the ball falling into the path of Montebello who bundled home.

But the joy of the home fans was shortlived as the ‘goal’ was annulled for offside after a VAR check.

Malta kept pushing forward and on 67 minute Benedettini dived full stretch to deny Teuma.

San Marino almost snatched an equaliser a minute later when Alessandro D’Addario saw his low drive hit the upright with Bonello beaten.

The San Marino goalkeeper then distinguished himself again to palm away Mbong’s low shot and minutes later he pulled an even better stop to keep out Teuma’s header from routine distance.

Ten minutes from time, Montebello missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 when he miscued the ball in front of a gaping goal after a fine pass from Camenzuli.

Two minutes from time, Benedettini continued to frustrate the home side when he produced an acrobatic save to deny the goalbound Jurgen Degabriele.

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