A goal eleven minutes in the second half gave Bulgaria a narrow win over a determined Malta side at the National Stadium in another match from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to EURO 2016.
The Bulgarians could have taken the lead earlier as just before the end of the first half, they missed a penalty but at that point, it would have been an undeserved lead as the locals shared the exchanges with their opponents during the first half. However after the break, Ivaylo Petev’s side managed to score the all-important goal which puts them back on track after collecting just two points from the previous four matches.
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin made only one change to the team which defeated Lithuania on Monday as Alfred Effiong was awarded a place in the starting line-up, replacing Andrew Cohen.
Haber started in goal with Zach Muscat, Agius and Camilleri as the three central defenders, Alex Muscat and Failla on the flanks, Briffa, Rowen Muscat and Fenech in midfield with Effiong and Mifsud in attack.
Malta had the first attempt at goal on the 2nd minute with a Clayton Failla freekick from the right parried by Bozhidar Mitrev. A minute later, Alfred Effiong ran past Dyakov and Aleksandar Aleksandrov on the left flank and concluded the fine run with a shot ending just over the bar.
Justin Haber came to the rescue on the 10th minute blocking an Ivelin Popov freekick from the right. However Malta went close once again on 32 minuets when off a cross by Alex Muscat from the right, Roderick Briffa chipped the ball over Dyakov and his conclusion was saved in two attempts by the Bulgarian goalkeeper.
Four minutes from the end of the first half, Haber performed a good save at point blank on Ilian Micanski who entered the penalty area from the left after the ball bounced on Agius.
One minute into stoppage time, Bulgaria had the opportunity to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty after Ryan Camilleri pushed Vladimir Gadzhev inside the area. However from the penalty spot, Ilian Micanski hit wide.
Two minutes in the second half, Ivelin Popov missed a good chance as he failed to connect from close range off an inviting cross by Mihail Alexandrov.
Bulgaria managed to break the deadlock on the 56th minute when off a clearance by Zach Muscat, Minev addressed the ball in the direction of Gadzhev who headed the ball for Ivelin Popov to slam the ball home from the right.
Malta replied with a fine freekick by Roderick Briffa from the left with Zach Muscat hitting just wide off from close range on the 71st.
Two minutes from time, a powerful drive by Clayton Failla from the left ended just wide. A direct freekick by Failla on the 90th was neutralised by Mitrev. Two minutes in added time, Bulgaria could have added another but Stanislav Manolev’s fine shot from outside the area hit the crossbar.
MALTA Justin Haber, Alex Muscat (63′ Edward Herrera), Andrei Agius, Paul Fenech, Clayton Failla, Roderick Briffa (76′ Andre Schembri), Michael Mifsud (84′ Andrew Cohen), Rowen Muscat, Ryan Camilleri, Alfred Effiong, Zach Muscat.
BULGARIA Bozhidar Mitrev, Ivan Bandalovski, Nikolay Bodurov, Yordan Minev, Mihail Alexandrov (75′ Georgi Milanov), Ivelin Popov (81′ Ivaylo Chochev), Stanislav Manolev, Vladimir Gadzhev, Ilian Micanski (89′ Radoslav Vasilev), Svetoslav Dyakov, Aleksandar Aleksandrov.
Referee: Aleksandar Stavrev (MKD)
Assistant Referees: Marjan Kirovski, Dejan Kostadinov (MKD)
Additional Assistant Referees: Dimitar Meckarovski, Dejan Jakimovski (MKD)
Fourth Official: Goce Petreski (MKD)