Malta earned its first point in Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2016 after holding Bulgaria in a 1-1 draw at the Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski in Sofia.
An early goal for the hosts may have given the indication that Bulgaria were heading for another comfortable win after beating Malta 6-0 in a World Cup qualifier at the same venue in March 2013 but this time, the Maltese defended well for the rest of the game, notching the equaliser through a penalty.
Malta now lies second from bottom in the group, one point ahead of Azerbaijan – Malta’s next opponents on March 28 in Baku.
With Michael Mifsud ruled out through suspension and John Mintoff left out of the squad, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin made two changes to the team which had lost narrowly to Italy, naming Jonathan Caruana and Jean Paul Farrugia in the starting line-up.
Andrew Hogg started in goal with Jonathan Caruana, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri playing in defence, Zach Muscat and Clayton Failla on the flanks, Paul Fenech, Roderick Briffa and Rowen Muscat in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Jean Paul Farrugia in attack.
The hosts managed to take the lead on the 6th minute when off a cross by Ivelin Popov from the left, Mihail Alexandrov headed the ball down for Andrej Galabinov to slot the ball past Hogg from close range.
Andrej Galabinov went close once again on 26 minutes when he controlling a cross from the left and fired a powerful shot which however hit the crossbar.
Eight minutes from the end of the first half, Roderick Briffa had a good shot from the edge of the area.
After having an appeal for a penalty turned down by the referee late in the first half, four minutes into the second half, Malta was awarded a penalty for a foul inside the area on Farrugia following a fine move by Schembri. From the penalty spot, Clayton Failla converted to level matters.
Just past the hour, Hogg came to the rescue, deflecting into a corner a close-range effort by Alexandrov after exchanging the ball with Popov. A minute later, Popov was unlucky to hit the upright with a good header.
Bulgaria could have regained the lead on 76 minutes when they were awarded a penalty after Rowen Muscat fouled Manolev inside the area. However from the penalty spot, Ivelin Popov hit sky high.
In the remaining minutes, the Bulgarians increased the pressure in their bid to secure the three points but the boys in red managed to block their attempts to take home a positive result.
BULGARIA Vladislav Stoyanov, Georgi Terziev, Nikolay Bodurov, Mihail Aleksandrov, Ivelin Popov, Stanislav Manolev, Veselin Minev, Andrey Galabinov (58′ Ilian Micanski), Georgi Milanov (58′ Marcos Marquinhos), Svetoslav Dyakov, Georgi Iliev (71′ Alexander Tonev).
MALTA Andrew Hogg, Jonathan Caruana, Paul Fenech, Andrei Agius, Clayton Failla (81′ Steve Bezzina), Roderick Briffa, Jean Paul Farrugia (93′ Terence Vella), Rowen Muscat, Andre Schembri (78′ Ryan Fenech), Ryan Camilleri, Zach Muscat.
Referee: Martin Strömbergsson (FIFA and Sweden)
Assistant referees: Daniel Gustavsson and Joakim Flink (FIFA and Sweden)
Additional assitant referees: Andreas Ekberg and Bojan Pandžić (FIFA and Sweden)
Fourth official: Per Brogevik (FIFA and Sweden)
Yellow Cards: Farrugia, Failla, Minev, Caruana, P. Fenech