Satariano 84; Apap 87
Natcho 32 pen.
H. Bonello, R. Camenzuli, S. Borg (60 F. Apap), J. Borg (78 L. Montebello), M. Guillaumier, J. Mbong, J. Degabriele (46 J. Brown) E. Pepe, B. Kristensen (60 T. Teuma), S. Dimech (71 A. Satariano), J. Busuttil (46 J. Brown).
O. Marciano (46 Y. Gerafi), M. Ghantus (74 G. Badash), R. Shlomo, B. Natcho (66 S. Elias), G. Naor, S. Weissman (58 G. Melamed), O. Altman, R. Hatuel, O. Dadia (58 I. Shabiro) T. Baribo (58 E. Dasa), D. Gropper.
Referee: Eldorjan Hamiti (Albania).
Yellow cards S. Borg, Naor, Pepe, Elias, Shabiro.
The Malta national team put behind them a troubled build-up as they stormed back from a goal down to beat Israel in a friendly international at the National Stadium.
It was a gutsy display from the Maltese player who came into the match in the midst of a saga involving their coach Devis Mangia, who had been temporarily suspended by the MFA, and their disappointing Nations League defeat to Estonia in Tallinn.
But the players managed to produce a strong show of character as despite falling behind to Bibras Natcho’s first-half goal they never lost their hunger to recover their match.
In fact, the Maltese grew in stature as the minutes passed and only some goalkeeping heroics from Israel’s substitute goalkeeper Yoav Gerafi denied them from getting back into the match.
But Malta’s pressure finally reaped dividends as quick-fire goals from Alex Satariano and Ferdinando Apap in the final six minutes earned the team a famous victory that will surely inject much-needed self-belief for their upcoming endeavours in the Euro 2024 qualifiers next year.
The build-up to the match was far from serene for the national team.
After last week’s disappointment of missing out on promotion to Group C in the UEFA Nations League, the national team set-up suffered another blow yesterday morning following the news that head coach Devis Mangia was temporarily suspended by the Malta FA for a breach of its policies.
Mangia was relieved of his duties after he was reported to Malta FA by a national team player over alleged sexual misconduct.
The Italian’s suspension is set to be discussed in an emergency MFA Executive Board meeting today with his future as national teams’ head coach looking increasingly in jeopardy.
Davide Mazzotta was handed the reins of the team for this match and he effected five changes to the starting formation.
Steve Borg was restored to a three-man defence at the expense of Cain Attard while Bjorn Kristensen was preferred to Teddy Teuma to run the team engine room alongside Matthew Guillaumier.
Upfront, Jan Busuttil was brought in to operate just behind the front duo of Shaun Dimech and Jurgen Degabriele.
The opening stages of the match were evenly-balanced as there was little separating either side.
The Maltese were holding their own well against an Israel side who were brimming with confidence after sealing promotion to Group A of the UEFA Nations League which will see them face the continent’s elite in the next edition.
Israel created the first chance of the match on 20 minutes when from a Bibras Natcho free-kick, Omri Altman’s header was pushed away by the alert Henry Bonello, in Malta’s goal.
Malta’s players were continuously trying to find some openings in the Israel defence but their poor distribution on the final pass was hampering their hopes of troubling the visitors’ defence.
The home side were unlucky not to take the lead on 28 minutes.
Jean Borg played Camenzuli into space and the Ħamrun wingback immediately squared the ball into the path of Shaun Dimech who saw his shot coming off the post and hit goalkeeper Marciano before finishing out of play.
In the next chance, Israel were awarded a penalty when Steve Borg was adjudged to have pushed Gropper inside the area.
From the spot, Natcho made no mistake to put the Israelis ahead.
Malta soon hit back and a minute later, Camenzuli again rant through the Israeli defence and fed Degabriele who tried to turn past his marker but was blocked by the visitors defence.
Four minutes from the break, Camenzuli put Dimech in space and the Valletta forward sped into the area but his shot was blocked.
On 43 minutes, Degabriele’s delivery from a free-kick was met by Steve Borg who headed just over as the Maltese ended the first half strongly.
In stoppage time, Jan Busuttil sent a cross towards Dimech who saw his overhead kick blocked by a defender.
After the interval, Mazzotta withdrew Degabriele and Busuttil and roped in James Brown, who was making his Malta debut, and Jodi Jones.
Jones almost made an instant impact as on 49 minutes, the Oxford United striker was put in space by Guillaumier but his shot was somehow kept out by Israel’s substitue goalkeeper Yoav Jarafi.
On 56 minutes, Jones turned provider when his throughball put Dimech clear but the City forward took too much time to conclude and was thwarted by an Israeli defender.
It was all Malta now and five minutes later, Mbong forced his way past two defenders but his firm drive was somehow kept out by Gerafi.
Twelve minutes from time, Gerafi again distinguished himself when he dived full stretch to keep out Alex Satariano’s header as the Maltese kept pushing for an equaliser.
The Israel goalkeeper was at it again nine minutes from time when this time he thwarted Camenzuli.
Malta’s efforts were finally rewarded six minutes from time when in another quick raid, Jones saw great awareness to square the ball into the path of the unmarked Satariano who stabbed the ball home.
The Maltese were not finished yet as three minutes later they clinched the winner.
From a corner action, Teuma’s delivery was met by Ferdinando Apap who powered his header into the top corner to the delight of the Maltese fans.
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