Azerbaijan collected their first three points in Group H of the European Qualifiers as they beat Malta 2-0 at the Tofig Bahramov Republican Stadium in Baku.
The hosts took just three minutes to forge ahead and for over an hour had the edge over Pietro Ghedin’s side. However towards the end of the game, the Maltese gained more confidence, putting their opponents under pressure. However a goal in added time killed any hopes of the Maltese earning something from this clash.
As expected, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin made four changes from the team which lost to Georgia as Andrew Hogg, Roderick Briffa, Paul Fenech and Alfred Effiong replaced Justin Haber, Bjorn Kristensen, Andrew Cohen and Jean Paul Farrugia in the starting line-up.
Hogg started in goal with Jonathan Caruana, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri as central defenders, Steve Borg and Steve Bezzina on the flanks, Briffa, Fenech and Rowen Muscat in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Effiong in attack.
Azerbaijan had a perfect start, taking the lead on the 3rd minute when off a cross from the right by Namik Alesgerov, Javid Hüseynov anticipated Jonathan Caruana to head home past goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.
On the 11th, Andre Schembri sent Alfred Effiong through and the latter’s intelligent shot was turned into a corner in style by goalkeeper Kamran Ağayev. One minute later, a header by Effiong, off a cross by Bezzina from the left, was parried by the Azerbaijani goalkeeper.
Hüseynov went close once again for the hosts with a shot from outside the area which however was partially saved by the Malta goalkeeper on the 26th.
Vüqar Nadirov pounced on poor ball control by the Maltese on the 64th and tried his luck with a shot from outside the area but Hogg came to the rescue turning the ball into a corner.
In the final fifteen minutes, Malta held the initiative. An Andre Schembri effort was neutralised by Kamran Ağayev on the 77th. Six minutes later, Steve Pisani’s diagonal shot, off a cross by Ryan Fenech, was parried by Ağayev. Ryan Fenech was then unlucky to hit the upright, direct from a corner from the right three minutes from time.
However two minutes in added time, Azerbaijan made sure of the three points thanks to Dmitri Nazarov who received a cross from the right and beat Hogg with a fine rising shot from outside the area.
AZERBAIJAN Kamran Ağayev, Gara Garayev, Maksim Medvedev, Badavi Guseynov, Rashad F. Sadigov, Javid Hüseynov, Vüqar Nadirov (80′ Eddy İsrafilov), Rahid Amirguliyev, Namik Alesgerov (22′ Ruslan Gurbanov), Arif Daşdemirov, Afran İsmayılov (70′ Dmitri Nazarov).
MALTA Andrew Hogg, Jonathan Caruana, Steve Bezzina (46′ Steve Pisani), Steve Borg, Andrei Agius, Roderick Briffa, Rowen Muscat, Andre Schembri (81′ Ryan Fenech), Paul Fenech, Ryan Camilleri (36′ Zach Muscat), Alfred Effiong.
Referee: Halis Özkahya (TUR)
Assistant Referees: Çem Satman and Ekrem Kan (TUR)
Additional Assitant Referees: Mete Kalkavan and Tolga Özkalfa (TUR)
Fourth Official: Kemal Yilmaz (TUR)