The Malta women’s national team fell to a 2-0 defeat against Azerbaijan in their final home World Cup qualifier at the Centenary Stadium on Friday.
The Azeri side scored a goal in each half through Kristina Bakarandze and Diana Mammadova to hand their nation the three points.
As a result, Azerbaijan have now pipped Malta to fourth as they moved to six points while Malta are now fifth with four points to show for their efforts.
Malta will face Montenegro in their last game from this campaign in this competition.
For this game, coach Mark Gatt deployed Birkirkara’s Janice Xuereb between the sticks marshalled by defenders Nicole Sciberras, Stephania Farrugia, Charlene Zammit and Jade Flask.
Emma Lipman, captaining the side, played alongside Shona Zammit and Rachel Cuschieri in the midfield.
Upfront, Haley Bugeja, Maria Farrugia and Brenda Borg formed an attacking trio.
Before this game, Gatt was presented with a commemorative memento by Malta FA president Bjorn Vassallo.
Gatt will not continue as Malta women’s coach after this competition, having been in charge since 2015.
Azerbaijan created the first goal-scoring opportunity through Kristina Bakarandze whose shot from a tight angle went wide.
The away side remained the better team and made their pressure count when Bakarandze pounced on a loose ball before firing past Janice Xuereb.
Malta’s reply came swiftly through Shona Zammit who fired over the bar from the edge of the area.
Azerbaijan tried their luck through defender Nigar Mirzayileva whose header from a corner kick went wide from Xuereb’s goal.
Malta were looking to pick up ground with Maria Farrugia having a shot at goal going just inches wide before Rachel Cuschieri followed up with another long-range effort which went in vain.
In the opening 15 minutes of the second half, coach Gatt made three changes as he deployed Dorianne Theuma, Maya Lucia and Alishia Sultana in an attempt to pull themselves back into the game.
Nonetheless, it was the Azeri that scored the game’s next goal when midfielder Diana Mammadova capitalised on a well-engineered positive transition.
Malta defender Sciberras could have pulled one back for the hosts but her effort from the small area was deflected into corner.
Forward Farrugia had an effort on goal saved by Azerbaijan’s goalkeeper Aytaj Sharifova.
In the closing stages, Malta tried to stage up a late rally with Theuma also hitting the crossbar, but they could not break down the Azeris as they fell to a home defeat.
MALTA: J. Xuereb; N. Sciberras (68 R. Giusti), S. Farrugia, C. Zammit, J. Flask (60 A. Sultana), E. Lipman, S. Zammit (46 M. Lucia), R. Cuschieri, H. Bugeja, B. Borg (46 D. Theuma), M. Farrugia.
AZERBAIJAN: A. Sharifova; D. Mammadova, N. Mirzayileva, E. Manya (86 V. Hayijeva), M. Mollayeva, S. Jafarzade, K. Bakarandze (86 F. Teymurova), N. Hajiyeva (68 Z. Mahsimova), N. Parlak, A. Dorofeeva (67 Y. Acar), P. Bozdag (52 A. Ahmadova).
Referee: Silvia Gasperotti (Italy FA).
Yellow cards: Lucia, Mollayeva.