The national team extended its positive run in friendly matches with a goalless draw with Northern Ireland at the National Stadium on Wednesday as Malta prepares for the next month’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Italy.
Therefore after winning the last five friendly matches, Malta registered a sixth positive result in a row.
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin made four changes to the team which defeated Liechtenstein in November as Andrew Hogg, Alex Muscat, Paul Fenech and Michael Mifsud replaced Justin Haber, Jonathan Caruana, Roderick Briffa and Terence Vella. Caruana and Briffa were both unavailable as they are recovering from injuries.
Muscat and Failla started on the flanks with Agius and Dimech as central defenders; Paul Fenech deputised for Roderick Briffa as holding midfielder together with Gareth Sciberras, Herrera recovered in time to join Schembri and Cohen in midfield with Michael Mifsud as the only striker.
For Northern Ireland, Alex Bruce was making his debut, four years after making his first appearance for the Republic of Ireland. He switched allegiance after playing in two matches for the Republic of Ireland and has decided to pursue his international ambitions with Northern Ireland. In-form Inverness striker Billy McKay also made his first appearance when he was included as a substitute.
The Maltese had a good start going close with an Edward Herrera effort from close range. Ireland replied with a Daniel Lafferty header which beat goalkeeper Andrew Hogg but the goal was disallowed for a foul.
On the 25th minute, close range shots by Michael Mifsud were blocked by defenders and off the rebound, Andre Schembri’s shot from the edge of the area ended just over the bar. Six minutes later, a powerful drive by Clayton Failla just missed the target. One minute from half-time, a long-distance freekick by Failla was neutralised by goalkeeper Alan Mannus.
The Irish goalie managed to block a Michael Mifsud effort ten minutes in the second half. On the other side of the pitch, the ball was cleared into a corner after a fine freekick by Steven Davis on 69 minutes. A minute later, Schembri served Mifsud whose first attempt was blocked by the Irish goalkeeper and the off the rebound, the Malta striker’s effort was deflected into a corner by a defender.
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MALTA Andrew Hogg, Alex Muscat, Gareth Sciberras, Andrei Agius (46’ Ryan Camilleri), Luke Dimech, Clayton Failla, Paul Fenech, Michael Mifsud (89’ Terence Vella), Andrew Cohen, Andre Schembri (91’ Shaun Bajada), Edward Herrera.
Subs not used: Justin Haber, Joseph Zerafa, Ryan Fenech, Jacob Borg.
Coach: Pietro Ghedin
N. IRELAND Alan Mannus, Daniel Lafferty, Gareth McAuley, Jonathan Evans (46’ Craig Cathcart), Steven Davis, Will Grigg, Chris Brunt, Niall McGinn, Alex Bruce (72’ Pat McCourt), Shane Ferguson (63’ Billy McKay), Aaron Hughes.
Subs not used: Gerard Doherty, Dean Shiels, Corry Evans, Josh Carson, Adam McGurk.
Coach: Michael O’Neill
Referee: Nikolay Yordanov
Assistant Referees: Diyan Valkov, Martin Margaritov
Fourth Official: Alan Mario Sant
Yellow Cards: none