Malta lost 1-3 to Croatia in another match from Group F of the EURO 2012 Qualifiers at the National Stadium on Friday. For Malta, this was the seventh defeat in as many matches.
This win enables Croatia to keep the pace with group leaders Greece who defeated Israel 1-0 away from home in another match on Friday.
With Jonathan Caruana ruled out of the game in the very last minute and Daniel Bogdanovic dropped from the squad, Buttigieg had to make two changes from the team which defeated the Central African Republic last month. They were replaced by Maltese-Australians Manny Muscat and John Hutchinson.
Andrei Agius and Gareth Sciberras started as central defenders in front of goalkeeper Andrew Hogg with Manny Muscat and Clayton Failla on the flanks. John Hutchinson and Ryan Fenech were employed as holding midfielders with Roderick Briffa and Andrew Cohen on the flanks. Andre Schembri supported Michael Mifsud in attack.
The visitors had the first attempt at goal with a diagonal shot by Darijo Srna from the right ending just wide on 4 minutes. Two minutes later, a freekick by Ryan Fenech was parried by Stipe Pletikosa. Ivan Klasnic then failed to connect off a freekick by Srna from the left on the 9th.
Croatia forged ahead on 11 minutes thanks to a goal by Ognjen Vukojevic whose powerful low drive gave Andrew Hogg no chance.
On 17 minutes, Michael Mifsud received a through pass but Pletikosa managed to halt his run. Five minutes later, in a counter-attack for Malta, the ball reached John Hutchinson whose fine shot scraped past the post.
A well-taken freekick by Darijo Srna on the half-hour ended just wide but two minutes later, the visitors double the score.
Following through pass from the right, Vrsaljko served Milan Badelj with a perfect back-heel pass and the latter, all alone in front of Hogg, placed the ball at the back of the net.
Seven minutes from the end of the first half, Malta pulled one back when Michael Mifsud received a pass by Roderick Briffa and the City striker slotted the ball past Pletikosa from inside the area.
Malta gained confidence and a fierce shot by Ryan Fenech ended just wide on the 40th.
The second half opened with a Ivan Perisic header which hit the crossbar on 49 minutes.
Croatia increased the lead on 68 minutes when off a cross by Milan Badelj, Dejan Lovren headed the ball home from close range.
In a swift counter-attack for the visitors, Mario Mandzukic concluded a good move with a shot from the right ending wide on 84 minutes. Two minutes later, Ivan Woods just missed the target off an inviting pass by Ryan Fenech from the left.
Malta will be in action once again on Tuesday, hosting Georgia at the National Stadium, kick-off at 20:30.
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MALTA Andrew Hogg, Manny Muscat, Gareth Sciberras, Andrei Agius, Ryan Fenech (88’ Carlo Mamo), Clayton Failla, Roderick Briffa (74’ Jamie Pace), Michael Mifsud (82’ Ivan Woods), Andrew Cohen, John Hutchinson, Andre Schembri
Subs not used: Reuben Gauci, Steve Borg, Paul Fenech, Trevor Cilia.
Coach: John Buttigieg
CROATIA Stipe Pletikosa, Ivan Strinic, Dejan Lovren, Vedran Corluka, Milan Badelj (81’ Eduardo Da Silva), Ognjen Vukojevic, Darijo Srna, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Klasnic (46’ Nikola Kalinic), Ivan Perisic (68’ Tomislav Dujmovic), Sime Vrsaljko.
Subs not used: Daniel Subasic, Josip Simunic, Nikica Jelavic, Luka Modric.
Coach: Slaven Bilic
Referee: Tony Chapron (FRA)
Assistant referees: Emmanuel Boisdenghien, Fredji Harchay (FRA)
Fourth official: Fredy Fautrel (FRA)
Yellow Cards: 25’ Fenech, 35’ Mandzukic, 52’ Corluka, 67’ Failla
Scorers: 11′ Ognjen Vukojevic, 32′ Milan Badelj, 38′ Michael Mifsud, 68′ Dejan Lovren