A goal after less than two minutes, another early in the second half and a third one late in the game handed Sweden a 3–0 win over Malta in a match from Group F of the EURO 2020 qualifiers at the Friends Arena in Solna on Friday.
Therefore after beating Romania 2-1 and holding neighbours Norway in a 3-3 draw, Sweden collect another three points which enable them to keep the pace with leaders Spain who defeated the Faroe Islands 4-1. Spain lead the way with maximum points from three matches, followed by Sweden on seven. Romania came back from two goals down to hold Norway in a 2-2 draw, therefore moving third on four points, followed by Malta on 3, Norway on 2 while the Faroe Islands are yet to collect their first points in the group. On Monday, Malta hosts Romania at the National Stadium, kick-off at 20:45.
Malta coach Ray Farrugia made no less than six changes to the team which lost 0-2 to Spain in March. Apart from the injured Matthew Guillaumier, five other players – Jonathan Caruana, Paul Fenech, Kyrian Nwoko, John Mintoff and Joseph Zerafa made way for Andrei Agius – who had skipped the clash with Spain due to suspension, Jake Grech, Luke Montebello, Rowen Muscat, Alfred Effiong and Luke Gambin.
Farrugia started with an offensive 3-4-3 formation with three players at the back – Borg, Agius and Zach Muscat, Corbalan and Mbong on the flanks, Rowen Muscat and Gambin in the middle with Effiong, Montebello and Grech in attack.
A minute’s silence was observed for former Swedish FA and UEFA president Lennart Johansson who passed away earlier this week.
Sweden could not have a better start as they took the lead after less than two minutes when off a cross by Kristoffer Olsson from the right, Marcus Berg’s close range header was partially saved at point blank by Bonello but Robin Quaison hit home off the rebound.
Malta replied with an Andrei Agius freekick on the 10th minute ending high. A freekick by Emil Forsberg was turned into a corner by Bonello on the 16th minute and two minutes later, a rising shot from the left by Ludwig Augustinsson ended just over the bar. Bonello came to the rescue once again on 25 minutes with a difficult save on Marcus Berg who hit low after receiving an assist by Claesson from the right.
The Malta goalkeeper was prominent once again on the 36th minute as he palmed out an Emil Forsberg freekick and following a clearance by Mbong, Mikael Lustig’s cross was met by Quaison who however headed the ball just wide. The latter once again tried his luck with an overhead kick from close range which ended off target three minutes from the end of the first half.
One minute from half-time, Malta created the best opportunity when off a cross by Joseph Mbong from the left, Alfred Effiong’s goal-bound header was blocked into a corner by Robin Olsen.
The hosts maintained the pressure in the second half and Zach Muscat cleared a goal-bound effort by Augustinsson on the 48th.
However Sweden were not to be denied two minutes later when off Marcus Berg’s intelligent back-heel assist, Victor Claesson anticipated Bonello placing the ball at the back of the net.
The Swedish threatened once again on 67 minutes with a Marcus Berg effort when served by Quaison. Two minutes later, Bonello tipped into a corner a Pontus Jansson header.
Malta replied with an angled shot by Joseph Mbong which was parried by Olsen and on the 74th minute, a powerful drive by substitute Paul Fenech ended just wide.
Nine minutes from time, Sweden scored the third goal. A powerful shot by Forsberg was blocked by Bonello, Quaison took the rebound, serving the unmarked Alexander Isak on the left and Solna-born striker slammed the ball home
On the 90th, Sweden could have added another but substitute John Guidetti’s powerful shot was neutralised by the Malta goalkeeper.
SWEDEN Robin Olsen, Mikael Lustig, Filip Helander, Ludwig Augustinsson, Albin Ekdal (78’ Sebastian Larsson), Marcus Berg (68’ Alexander Isak), Emil Forsberg, Viktor Claesson, Pontus Jameson, Kristofer Olson, Robin Quaison (84’ John Guidetti).
MALTA Henry Bonello, Steve Borg (80’ Ferdinando Apap), Andrei Agius, Jake Grech (64’ Paul Fenech), Joseph Mbong, Luke Montebello (71’ Kyrian Nwoko), Rowen Muscat, Juan Corbalan, Alfred Effiong, Luke Gambin, Zach Muscat.
Referee: Rob Harvey (IRE)
Assistant Referees: Wayne McDonnell, Mark Gavin (IRE)
Fourth Official: Paul Mclaughlin (IRE)