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Malta miss out on promotion as Anier’s strike lifts Estonia

Malta's Joseph Mbong shoots towards the Estonian goal. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

ESTONIA          2

Sappinen 45 pen.

Anier 85

MALTA              1

Teuma 47 pen.

ESTONIA K. Hein, H. Purg, M. Soomets, S. Zenjov (90 R. Kirss), H. Ojamaa (76 S. Sinyavskiy), B. Vastsuk (67 M. Miller), K. Vassiljev, R. Sappinen (67 H. Anier), J. Tamm, K. Mets, K. Kallaste (46 T. Teniste).

MALTA H. Bonello, C. Attard (70 S. Dimech), R. Camenzuli, J. Borg, M. Guillaumier, J. Mbong, B. Paiber (71 J. Degabriele), E. Pepe, A Satariano (88 L. Montebello), T. Teuma, J. Jones (46 S. Borg).

Referee Daniel Siebert (Germany).

Yellow cards Satariano, Zenjov.

Red card J. Borg (Malta) 45.

Malta missed out on a historic promotion to the UEFA Nations League Group C when they stumbled to a 2-1 defeat against Estonia in Tallinn in their final match of the campaign.

It was a disappointing outcome to a match that saw the Estonians seal promotion with a deserved victory over an inconsistent Maltese side that showed different facets throughout the game.

In fact, the Maltese side looked off the pace for much of the first half as they struggled to contain the home side despite the visitors committing a series of technical errors, most notably poor distribution of the ball in key areas of the pitch as well as lax marking and lack of fight.

The dismissal of Jean Borg at the end of the first half for a dangerous tackle on Zenjov that procured the penalty that handed the lead to the home side might have suggested that the Maltese were set for a freefall.

But after the break, the introduction of Steve Borg and some tactical twists effected by Mangia had the desired effect as the team improved considerably and they were quickly rewarded by Teuma’s leveller from another penalty.

From then on, Malta continued to dominate play but lacked the punch to grab a winner, and instead, it was the Estonians who grabbed the winner to secure the top spot in Group D2 with Malta forced to settle for the runners-up spot for the second successive Nations League edition.

Mangia opted for an attacking lineup as he handed a full debut to forward Jodie Jones who only acquired Maltese citizenship this month.

The Oxford striker was positioned just behind central striker Alex Satariano as Mangia switched to a 3-5-2-formation.

Ryan Camenzuli and Joseph Mbong took the wingback roles with Enrico Pepe, Cain Attard, and Jean Borg taking the central defensive roles.

In midfield, Brandon Paiber, Matthew Guillaumier, and Teddy Teuma ran the team’s engine room.

Malta were off to a difficult start to the match as after four minutes a poor back pass by Cain Attard was intercepted by Sergej Zenjov who fed Konstantin Vassiljev who saw his shot beat Bonello but hit the upright.

The Maltese failed to clear the ball and seconds later Ken Kallaste’s cross was met by Vassiljev who redirected the ball towards the centre of the area where Bogdan Vastsuk bundled the ball home.

However, the Estonians’ celebrations were shortlived as referee Daniel Siebert annulled the goal for a handball infringement by the Estonian forward.

Malta finally had their first shot at goal on 12 minutes when Mbong’s strike was deflected to a corner.

At the other end, Rauno Sappinen saw his header pushed away by Bonello to a corner.

On 19 minutes, Malta orchestrated a good corner set-piece when Satariano teed up Attard on the edge of the area but the Birkirkara wingback fired well over the bar.

Malta’s struggles on the ball were visible as their poor distribution of the ball in key areas of the pitch was piling the pressure on their defence while upfront, Satariano cut an isolated figure.

The Estonians had the ball into the Malta net a second time when Soomets played in Sappinen slid the ball past Bonello, but this time the ‘goal’ was annulled for offside of the home forward.

Estonia were clearly on top and on 37 minutes Vassiljev hit a firm strike from the edge of the area that just missed the target.

On the stroke of half-time Malta’s promotion hopes suffered a simmering blow when the referee, after consulting VAR, pointed to the spot after Jean Borg’s tackle on Zenjov.

Borg was shown a straight red card by the referee who adjudged the Valletta defender’s tackle as dangerous play and from the spot Sappinen drilled the ball past Bonello. 

On the restart, coach Mangia threw in Steve Borg for Jones to fill the void left by Jean Borg with Paiber dropping behind when Camenzuli pushed forward.

Despite being a man down, Malta started the second half on the offensive and on 47 minutes Camenzuli’s cross was deflected by the arm of Estonia’s Taljo Teniste, who had just replaced Kallaste.

The referee, after a long VAR review, pointed to the spot once again and Teuma kept his cool to beat Karl Hein in the Estonian goal.

Malta’s goal silenced the home crowd and injected renewed self-belief into the visiting players who were starting to push further forward.

Estonia remained dangerous in swift transitions, however, as Zenjov could have restored Estonia’s lead but failed to connect with Zeniste’s cross in front of a gaping goal.

With 20 minutes to go, Mangia tried to infuse more firepower when he roped in Jurgen Degabriele and Shaun Dimech for Attard and Paiber.

Malta continued to dominate possession but were struggling to break down the Estonian defence.

Instead, it was the Estonians who went on to grab the winner with five minutes to go when Zenjov played in Henri Anier who slid the ball past Bonello to kickstart the Estonian party.

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