Malta was only a few seconds away from collecting its first point in Group F of the EURO 2012 Qualifiers as a goal four minutes in added time handed Greece a 1-0 win at Ta’ Qali.
It was the second time in this campaign that a goal in stoppage time denied Malta a positive result as another goal in added time had stopped Malta from earning a point in Georgia in October.
Considering the team’s performance, the locals would have not stolen anything and a draw would have been well-deserved.
Malta had two changes from the team which drew with Switzerland last month as John Hutchinson and Daniel Bogdanovic replaced Paul Fenech and Andrew Cohen.
In fact, Malta coach John Buttigieg opted to start with Justin Haber in goal, Roderick Briffa and Carlo Mamo on the flanks, Jonathan Caruana and Andrei Agius as central defenders. Gareth Sciberras and John Hutchinson partnered in midfield with Daniel Bogdanovic and Shaun Bajada as wings behind strikers Andre Schembri and Michael Mifsud.
The two teams shared the exchanges in the opening minutes and Vassili Torosidis had the first attempt at goal on the 16th with a diagonal shot from the right ending just wide.
On 22 minutes, the locals appealed for a penalty when Andre Schembri released Michael Mifsud on the right and the latter ended on the ground, when tackled by Karagounis. However referee Michael Weiner waved play on.
Two minutes later, an overhead kick by Nikolaos Lymperopoulos was parried by Justin Haber. Hardly a minute later, Lymperopoulos served Sotiris Ninis but Carlo Mamo came to the rescue clearing the ball into safety.
The visitors were now in the driving seat and on the half-hour, Dimitrios Salpingidis received a pass from the right, controlled before trying his luck with a low shot which was neutralised by the Maltese custodian.
Malta replied with a cross from the left by Shaun Bajada from which Andre Schembri hit just wide. Michael Mifsud then hit wide from an inviting pass by Daniel Bogdanovic from the right on 43 minutes. Just before half-time, Bogdanovic concluded a solo effort with a rising shot which ended high.
For the second half, Buttigieg had to replace the injured Jonathan Caruana with Jamie Pace. Gareth Sciberras was then employed as central defender.
On 49 minutes, Bogdanovic sent another inviting cross from the right but Mifsud and Bajada arrived late. Five minutes later, Torosidis brought the best out of goalkeeper Justin Haber who turned his fine header into a corner in style. From the resulting corner, Lymperopoulos hit the crossbar. In a swift counter-attack for Malta, Daniel Bogdanovic’s close-range effort was blocked into a corner by a defender.
Haber performed another great save on Lymperopoulos following a good run by the latter on the left flank on 61 minutes. Four minutes later, following a good run by Samaras on the right, Justin Haber anticipated Lymperopoulos before he could conclude.
On the 80th, Schembri served Mifsud on the right and the latter’s low drive was parried by Tzorvas. Four minutes later, the visitors were reduced to ten men as Sokratis Papastathopoulos was given marching orders by referee Michael Weiner following a foul on Michael Mifsud who was heading towards goal.
Greece went close once again on the 90th when off a cross by Karagounis, Mitroglou’s header was turned into a corner by the Malta goalkeeper.
But the game was not over yet as four minutes in added time, a freekick by Giorgos Karagounis from the left created havoc inside the area and Vassilis Torosidis headed the ball home from close range.
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MALTA Justin Haber, Jonathan Caruana (46’ Jamie Pace), Carlo Mamo, Gareth Sciberras, Andrei Agius, John Hutchinson, Daniel Bogdanovic, Roderick Briffa, Michael Mifsud, Shaun Bajada (78’ Ryan Fenech), Andre Schembri (90+1’ Andrew Cohen).
Subs not used: Andrew Hogg, Edward Herrera, Joseph Zerafa, Clayton Failla.
Coach: John Buttigieg
GREECE Aleksandros Tzorvas, Vassilis Torosidis, Giorgos Tzavellas, Avraam Papadopoulos, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Giorgos Karagounis, Kostas Katsouranis, Sotiris Ninis (81’ Panagiotis Kone), Nikolaos Lymperopoulos (70’ Kostas Mitroglou), Giorgos Samaras, Dimitris Salpingidis (61’ Ioannis Fetfatzidis).
Subs not used: Kostas Chalkias, Loukas Vyntra, Pantelis Kafes, , Vangelis Moras.
Coach: Fernando Santos
Referee: Michael Weiner (GER)
Assistant Referees: Holger Henschel, Christoph Bornhorst (GER)
Fourth Official: Rafati Babali (GER)
Yellow Cards: Tzavellas, Torosidis
Red Cards: 84’ Papastathopoulos
Scorers: 90+4’ Vassilis Torosidis
Meanwhile in Tbilisi, a goal by Levan Kobiashvili gave Georgia a 1-0 win over group leaders Croatia. Kobiashvili scored the all-important goal on the 90th.
Elyaniv Barda put Israel ahead on 16 minutes. Kaspars Gorkss levelled matters on 62 minutes but Beram Kayal notched the winner for Israel nine minutes from added time.
Greece now lead the way with 11 points, followed by Croatia on 10, Georgia 9, Israel 7, Latvia 4 and Malta 0.