Despite conceding a goal after just five minutes, Malta maintained composure and left the Stadio Alberto Braglia in Modena with heads held up high in a 2-0 defeat to Italy.
Mattia Destro’s goal after just five minutes sent shivers down the spine of the Maltese supporters who travelled to Italy for the game and the thousands who watched the game on TV as they feared a heavy defeat was on its way. However the Maltese defended well denying their opponents the possibility of a convincing win and it was only in added time that Cesare Prandelli’s side doubled the score.
The game was played in Modena as a sign of solidarity by the FIGC following the earthquake which hit Emilia-Romagna earlier this year. The Malta Football Association also played its part and early in the afternoon, top MFA officials visited one of the towns hit by the earthquake, Concordia, and distributed footballs and t-shirts, among other items, to children living in this town. The over hundred and fifty supporters from the South End Core also had a banner saying “Forza e coraggio …. da Malta un abraccio.”
Ghedin made one change from the team which lost narrowly to Armenia as Edward Herrera replaced Andrew Cohen in the starting line-up. The back-four consisted of Steve Borg, Andrei Agius, Luke Dimech and Alex Muscat, Daniel Bogdanovic, Roderick Briffa, Gareth Sciberras and Edward Herrera in midfield and Andre Schembri supporting Michael Mifsud in attack.
Prandelli, on the other hand, replaced five players from the draw to Bulgaria, including Cassani, Peluso, Nocerino, Diamanti and Destro and will start with Buffon as goalkeeper, Barzagli and Bonucci as central defenders with Cassani and debutante Peluso on the flanks, Nocerino, Pirlo and Marchisio in midfield, Diamanti as attacking midfielder and Destro and Osvaldo in attack.
The Italians could not have a better start as they took the lead on the 5th minute when Claudio Marchisio sent Mattia Destro through and the latter beat Andrew Hogg with a low shot from close range.
On the 11th, Italy was awarded a freekick from the right but Andrew Hogg managed to turn into a corner, Alessandro Diamanti’s fine effort. Six minutes later, Luke Dimech came to the rescue, deflecting the ball into a corner before Pablo Osvaldo could conclude from close-range.
On the other side of the pitch, on the half-hour, Michael Mifsud tried to surprise Buffon with a lob from midfield but the ball ended just over the bar. A Roderick Briffa effort was turned into a corner by Buffon on 33 minutes.
After the break, with the inclusion of Lorenzo Insigne and later of Giampaolo Pazzini, the Italians increased the pressure but had to rely mainly on shots from outside the area as the Maltese defended well. On 75 minutes Insigne served the Milan striker inside the area but his conclusion ended just wide.
Deep into stoppage time, Italy doubled the score when off a corner by the usual Andrea Pirlo from the left, Federico Peluso headed the ball home.
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ITALIA Gianluigi Buffon, Mattia Cassani, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Peluso, Antonio Nocerino, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Alessandro Diamanti (46′ Lorenzo Insigne), Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (69′ Giampaolo Pazzini), Mattia Destro (83′ Sebastian Giovinco).
Subs: Emiliano Viviano, Salvatore Sirigu, Francesco Acerbi, Christian Maggio, Angelo Ogbonna, Emanuele Giaccherini, Andrea Poli, Marco Verratti., Fabio Borini.
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
MALTA Andrew Hogg, Steve Borg, Luke Dimech, Andrei Agius, Alex Muscat (86′ Ryan Camilleri), Edward Herrera, Gareth Sciberras, Roderick Briffa, Daniel Bogdanovic (69′ Andrew Cohen), Andre Schembri, Michael Mifsud.
Subs: Justin Haber, Jonathan Caruana, Shaun Bajada, Ryan Fenech, Etienne Barbara.
Referee: Antti Munukka (FIN)
Assistant Referees: Matti Heininen, Jan-Peter Aravirta (FIN)
Fourth Official: Dennis Antamo (FIN)
Yellow Cards: 51′ Muscat, 71′ Schembri, 75′ Cohen