Despite having captain Michael Mifsud sent off on the twenty-seventh minute, Malta suffered a narrow defeat to Italy in another match from Group H of the EURO 2016 qualifiers at the National Stadium on Monday.
After a most disappointing performance and defeat against Norway, the Maltese were determined to play a better game and it was only a goal by Southampton striker Graziano Pellè, who was making his debut for Italy, that made the whole difference.
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin handed John Mintoff a place in the starting line-up leaving Ryan Fenech on the bench. Mintoff played on the right flank with Roderick Briffa playing in midfield along with Paul Fenech and Rowen Muscat. On the other hand, Italy coach Antonio Conte made four changes from the team which defeated Azerbaijan as Verratti, Candreva, Pasqual and Pellè replaced Pirlo, De Sciglio, Ranocchia and Zaza.
Malta went close to taking a susprise lead on the 15th minute when Clayton Failla received the ball on the edge of the area and his low drive scraped past the foot of the upright. However four minutes later, off a cross by Pasqual from the left, Graziano Pellè’s header hit the crossbar with the ball and a few seconds later, it was Giorgio Chiellini who was unlucky to hit the upright with a header from the right.
The visitors forged ahead on 24 minutes when off a corner by Pasqual from the left, Bonucci’s header hit the foot of the upright and Immobile served Graziano Pellè who tapped the ball home.
To make matters worse, Malta ended in ten men three minutes later as referee Ovidiu Haţegan sent Michael Mifsud off as he judged his tackle on Florenzi as dangerous play. However on the 32nd minute, Malta went close again with a Clayton Failla freekick which ended just wide.
Antonio Candreva hit the bar with a cross shot one minute in the second half and on the 54th, off a cross by Verratti, Immobile’s header was parried by Hogg.
Italy also had a player sent off on the 73rd minute as the Romanian referee dismissed Leonardo Bonucci after bringing Andre Schembri down inside the area.
In added time, Sebastian Giovinco could have doubled the score as he concluded a good move on the right flank with a low diagonal shot which however hit the foot of the upright.
MALTA Andrew Hogg, Zach Muscat, Paul Fenech, Andrei Agius, Clayton Failla (94′ Steve Bezzina), Roderick Briffa, Michael Mifsud, Rowen Muscat, Andre Schembri (85′ Andrew Cohen), John Mintoff (72′ Clifford Gatt Baldacchino), Ryan Camilleri.
ITALY Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Marco Verratti, Antonio Candreva, Claudio Marchisio, Ciro Immobile (65′ Sebastian Giovinco), Alessandro Florenzi (59′ Alberto Aquilini), Graziano Pellè (76′ Angelo Ogbonna), Leonardo Bonucci, Matteo Darmian, Manuel Pasqual.
Referee: Ovidiu Haţegan (ROM)
Assistant Referees: Octavian Șovre, Radu Ghinguleac (ROM)
Additional Assistant Referees: Alexandru Tudor, Sebastian Colţescu (ROM)
Fourth Official: Mircea Grigoriu (ROM)
Yellow Cards: Briffa, Darmian
Red Cards: 28′ Mifsud, 73′ Bonucci