Michael Mifsud scored the fortieth goal for the national team and Alfred Effiong scored his second as Malta earned the second point in Group H of the European Qualifiers thanks to a 2-2 draw with Azerbaijan at the National Stadium on Sunday.
Azerbaijan, who were coming from two goalless draws with Norway and Croatia and who had managed to maintain a clean sheet in their last three matches, enjoyed most of the possession, taking the lead in the latter part of the first half. However after notching the equaliser, the Maltese gained confidence and managed to go 2-1 ahead although Azerbaijan, led by former Yugoslav and Croatian international Robert Prosinečki, levelled matters ten minutes from time.
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin made two changes to the team which lost narrowly to Italy as Ryan Camilleri and Michael Mifsud replaced Zach Muscat and the suspended Paul Fenech. He opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Andrew Hogg confirmed in goal; Alex Muscat, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius and Ryan Camilleri in defence; Rowen Muscat, Andre Schembri, Roderick Briffa and Clayton Failla in midfield with Michael Mifsud and Alfred Effiong playing in attack.
The visitors held the initiative right from the start but Clayton Failla went close on the 18th minute with a shot from outside the area when served Effiong.
Azerbaijan continued to enjoy the lion’s share of ball-possession and managed to break the deadlock on 36 minutes thanks to Rahid Amirguliyev who took a loose ball just outside the area, after Gurbanov served Nazarov whose shot was blocked by a defender, and beat Hogg with a low shot in the bottom right corner, the ball slightly deflected by Borg.
The locals replied with a Clayton Failla freekcik which was deflected into a corner by a defender on the 41st minute. Two minutes later, Nazarov’s goal-bound shot was blocked into a corner by Steve Borg.
Malta equalised eleven minutes in the second half. It was Andre Schembri who intercepted a pass by an opponent and advanced before releasing Alfred Effiong; the latter went past the goalkeeper and rounded a defender before serving Michael Mifsud who stood outside the area and the Sliema Wanderers striker unleashed a powerful shot which gave goalkeeper Kamran Agayev no chance.
On the hour, Hogg was superb in turning a powerful drive by Afran Ismayilov into a corner. Five minutes later, off a cross by Ismayilov, Amirgulyev headed the ball down for Ruslan Gurbanov whose first-time effort from the middle of the area was blocked by Hogg with the ball hitting the crossbar before Alex Muscat cleared into safety. A freekick by Ismayilov from the left was parried by Hogg on 68 minutes.
Malta forged ahead on the 71st minute. It was another intelligent pass by Andre Schembri for Alfred Effiong who won an aerial duel with Badavi Hüseynov and with a powerful shot from the left beat the Azerbaijani goalkeeper.
Nine minutes later, Azerbaijan restored the equilibrium when Ruslan Gurbanov received a pass in what seemed an off-side position, rounded a defender and served Rahid Amirguliyev whose fine shot from outside the area ended in the bottom right corner.
Finally on the 90th, substitute Araz Abdullayev went close for Azerbaijan with a rising shot which however ended just over the bar.
MALTA Andrew Hogg, Alex Muscat, Andrei Agius, Clayton Failla (85′ Steve Pisani), Roderick Briffa, Michael Mifsud (61′ Andrew Cohen), Rowen Muscat, Andre Schembri, Steve Borg, Ryan Camilleri (79′ Joseph Zerafa), Alfred Effiong.
AZERBAIJAN Kamran Agayev, Gara Garayev, Magomed Mirzabekov, Badavi Hüseynov, Ruslan Gurbanov (80′ Rauf Aliyev), Dmitri Nazarov (70′ Rashad A. Sadygov), Rashad F. Sadygov, Rahid Amirguliyev, Javid Taghiyev, Arif Dashdemirov, Afran Ismayilov (73′ Araz Abdullayev).
Referee: Harald Lechner (AUT)
Assistant Referees: Maximilian Kolbitsch, Andreas Staudinger (AUT)
Additional Assistant Referees: Alexander Harkam, Julian Weinberger (AUT)
Fourth Official: Andreas Heidenreich (AUT)
Yellow Cards: Effiong