A goal after just seven minutes by Michael Mifsud handed Malta a 1-0 win over Armenia in a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Republican Stadium in Yerevan.
It was an great performance by the team led by Pietro Ghedin as although Armenia were determined to collect the three points in their bid to restore the challenge for a place in the World Cup finals, the Maltese fought for every ball keeping their opponents at bay. It is difficult to single out particular players for their performance but goalkeeper Justin Haber definitely deserves praise for a string of fine saves which denied the Armenians on various occasions.
For Malta, this was the first win in a competitive match since the 2-1 win over Hungary in a European Championship qualifier at Ta’ Qali in 2006 and the first away win since the 1-0 win over Estonia in Tallinn in May 1993 in a World Cup qualifier.
Meanwhile Michael Mifsud, who is fast approaching his hundredth international cap, has increased his tally as the leading scorer for Malta to 37 goals.
As expected, Ghedin made no changes to the team which lost 0-2 to Italy in March. The only tactical change was the switch between Clayton Failla and Edward Herrera with the Hibs player being employed on the right flank and Herrera on the left.
Haber started in goal with Caruana and Dimech as central defenders, Camilleri and Muscat on the flanks, Briffa and Sciberras holding midfielders, Failla, Schembri and Herrera in midfield behind sole striker Michael Mifsud.
Malta took the lead on the 8th minute when Gareth Sciberras sent Michael Mifsud through and the latter’s first attempt was blocked by Berezovsky but off the rebound, the Valletta striker placed the ball at the back of the net.
The hosts replied with a freekick by Ozbiliz from which Arzumanyan failed to connect from close range on the 16th minute. A minute later, Mkrtchyan tested Justin Haber with a good header following a corner from the right but the Birkirkara goalkeeper’s reaction was superb. In a swift counter-attack, Michael Mifsud rounded a couple of players inside the area but the ball as somehow cleared into safety.
On the 20th, Clayton Failla headed wide off an inviting cross by Edward Herrera from the left. On the other side of the pitch, Haber performed another great save on a shot from outside the area by Marcos Pizzelli, tipping the ball into a corner on the 28th minute. Ten minutes later, Mkhitaryan could have put the hosts ahead with a diagonal shot from the left but his attempt was blocked by a defender.
Two minutes from the end of the first half, Haber blocked a dangerous corner by Manchuryan from the right and a few seconds later, off a cross by the same player, Mkrtchyan headed the ball just over the bar. In added time, Mkhitaryan headed just wide off an inviting cross from the right.
For the second half, Ghedin opted to switch Failla and Herrera while Armenia coach Vardan Minasyan replaced Manucharyan with Yura Movsisyan.
Justin Haber came to the rescue anticipating substitute Movsisyan following a cross from the right three minutes in the second half. A shot from outside the area by Ozbiliz was saved without particular difficulty by the Malta custodian four minutes later.
Gareth Sciberras had to be substituted after a bad fall and was replaced by another Birkirkara player Paul Fenech.
Haber performed another good save on a freekick by Ozbiliz on 58 minutes and two minutes later, tipped out a dangerous corner by Pizzelli.
Substitute Artur Sarkisov almost levelled matters less than ten seconds after replacing Manoyan but his close-range effort scraped past the post on the 66th. A minute later, another shot from close range by Ozbiliz was neutralised by Haber who also manage to palm out a dangerous cross from the right by the same player on 71 minutes. Araz Ozbiliz almost surprised Haber with a powerful shot from outside the area but the Malta goalkeeper was prominent once again with a fine save.
The duel between Ozbiliz and Haber continued with the latter blocking his corner from the left on the 76th.
Five minutes from time, Voskanyan was unlucky to have a rising shot from the right which just missed the target.
That was the last opportunity for the locals as the Maltese continued to defend well to take home the three points. Three points which put Malta on level points with Armenia in Group B.
Photos: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar / MFA
ARMENIA Roman Berezovsky, Valeri Aleksanyan, Taron Voskanyan, Robert Arzumanyan, Kamo Hovhannisyan, Davit Manoyan (66′ Artur Sarkisov), Karlen Mkrtchyan, Araz Obiliz, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcos Pizzelli, Edgar Manucharyan (46′ Yura Movsisyan).
MALTA Justin Haber, Jonathan Caruana, Gareth Sciberras (56′ Paul Fenech), Ryan Camilleri, Luke Dimech, Clayton Failla, Roderick Briffa (84′ Rowen Muscat), Michael Mifsud (92′ Terence Vella), Edward Herrera, Andre Schembri, Alex Muscat.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (NIR)
Assistant Referees: Eamonn Shanks, Richard Storey (NIR)
Fourth Official: Mark Courtney (NIR)
Yellow Cards: Briffa, A. Muscat, Caruana, Dimech
Scorers: 7′ Michael Mifsud