A brace by Mario Balotelli gave Italy a 2-0 win over Malta in a match from Group B of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at Ta’ Qali.
An early penalty paved the way for the Italian win but a few minutes later, Malta could have equalised thanks to a penalty but Michael Mifsud’s effort was neutralised by Gianluigi Buffon.
Overall it was a good performance by the locals after the disappointing performance in Bulgaria.
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Malta coach Pietro Ghedin made four changes from the team which lost 6-0 in Sofia last Friday as he replaced Andrew Hogg, Andrei Agius, Ryan Fenech and Paul Fenech with Justin Haber, Alex Muscat, Ryan Camilleri and Gareth Sciberras.
Caruana and Dimech started as central defenders with Camilleri and Muscat on the flanks, Sciberras and Briffa as holding midfielders, Herrera, Schembri and Failla in midfield behind sole striker Michael Mifsud.
Cesare Prandelli, on the other hand, named six Juventus players and five from AC Milan in the starting line-up. Leading the attack were the Rossoneri Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy.
The visitors could not have a better start when they were awarded a penalty on the 8th minute after Luke Dimech floored Stephan El Shaarawy inside the area. From the penalty spot, Mario Balotelli made no mistake to put Italy ahead.
On the 13th minute, Balotelli served El Shaarawy with a back-heel pass and the latter controlled before trying his lucky with a curved shot from just outside the area but the ball ended wide.
Two minutes later, it was Malta’s turn to be awarded a penalty. Roderick Briffa advanced on the right before sending Andre Schembri through on the other side with the latter being brought down inside the area by Gianluigi Buffon. However Michael Mifsud’s effort was neutralised by the Italy captain.
Michael Mifsud almost made up for that mistake as he went close to equalising on the 20th with a powerful drive which however hit the crossbar.
On the other side of the pitch, El Shaarawy squared the ball for Riccardo Montolivo who concluded a great run with a fine lob but his attempt was off-target.
A direct freekick by Clayton Failla almost surprised Buffon who turned the ball into a corner on the 31st. From the resulting Herrera, Caruana hit just wide. A shot from outside the area by Montolivo ended high on the 40th. A freekick by Balotelli three minutes later also ended over the bar.
Italy doubled the score just before half-time when off an inviting pass by Mattia De Sciglio who dashed into the area on the left, Mario Balotelli flicked the ball past Haber.
In added time, Roderick Briffa headed just wide off a cross from the right by Mifsud.
Alex Muscat tried his luck with a powerful shot from the right eight minutes in the second half ending just wide. On the other side of the pitch, Abate served Giaccherini whose conclusion was somehow deflected into a corner by Haber.
On the hour, Andre Schembri served Michael Mifsud with an intelligent pass but the Malta captain’s effort was blocked into a corner. Haber came to the rescue for Malta neutralising a cross by Candreva from the right which was meant for Balotelli.
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MALTA Justin Haber, Jonathan Caruana, Alex Muscat, Gareth Sciberras, Luke Dimech, Clayton Failla (82’ Andrew Cohen), Roderick Briffa, Michael Mifsud (88’ Terence Vella), Andre Schembri, Edward Herrera, Ryan Camilleri.
Subs not used: Andrew Hogg, Andrei Agius, Ryan Fenech, Paul Fenech, Rowen Muscat, Jacob Borg.
Coach: Pietro Ghedin
ITALY Gianluigi Buffon, Mattia De Sciglio, Ignazio Abate, Claudio Marchisio, Mario Balotelli (86’ Alberto Gilardino), Stephan El Shaarawy (76’ Alessio Cerci), Andrea Barzagli, Riccardo Montolivo, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Pirlo, Emanuele Giaccherini (63’ Antonio Candreva).
Subs not used: Morgan De Sanctis, Salvatore Sirigu, Christian Maggio, Luca Antonelli, Alessandro Florenzi, Andrea Poli, Sebastian Giovinco, Andrea Ranocchia, Alessandro Diamanti.
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
Referee: Serdar Gozubuyuk
Assistant Referees: Charles Schaap, Hessel Steegstra
Fourth official: Richard Liesveld
Yellow Cards: Buffon
Scorers: 8’ Mario Balotelli pen, 45’ Mario Balotelli