Nine-man Malta lost 1-5 to Scotland in the opening game from Group F of the European Qualifiers at the National Stadium on Sunday.
It was definitely a highly disappointing result for Malta considering that by the end of the first half, the boys in red were playing a good game and the score was still 1-1. However after Scotland regained the lead early in the second half, the controversial dismissal of Jonathan Caruana and a penalty on the hour allowed the Scottish side to go 3-1 ahead. This was the real turning point as from then onwards, the latter never looked back and added another two goals before Luke Gambin was sent off.
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin made one change to the team which held Estonia in a 1-1 draw on Wednesday as Ryan Scicluna replaced Clayton Failla. Andre Hogg started in goal with Steve Borg, Jonathan Caruana and Andrei Agius as the three central defenders, Ryan Scicluna and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Paul Fenech, Gareth Sciberras and Luke Gambin in midfield with Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack.
The visitors managed to take the lead on the 10th minute when Robert Snodgrass managed to surprise Hogg with a perfect lob from the right on the edge of the area.
However Malta restored equilibrium four minutes later when off an inviting cross by Gareth Sciberras, Alfred Effiong headed home in style past goalkeeper David Marshall.
On the 24th, Scotland missed a good opportunity when off a cross from the right by Callum Paterson, Robert Snodgrass’ close range header was neutralised by Hogg. Grant Hanley then headed the ball wide off a freekick by Matt Ritchie from the left on the 36th. Five minutes later, a diagonal shot from the left by Andrew Robertson scraped past the post.
Three minutes in the second half, Malta went close with a close-range effort by Andre Schembri, served from the left by Luke Gambin but goalkeeper David Marshall blocked his attempt.
Scotland regained the lead on the 53rd minute when off a cross from the left, Chris Martin slotted the ball past Hogg from close.
On the hour, Yevhen Aranovskiy ordered a penalty following what seemed a clean tackle by Jonathan Caruana on Chris Martin, sending off the Valletta defender. A controversial decision by the Ukranian referee which left the Maltese in ten men and allowed Scotland to move 3-1 ahead as Robert Snodgrass converted from the penalty spot.
The visitors extended the lead on the 78th when James Forrest served Matt Ritchie on the right and off the latter’s cross, Steven Fletcher headed the ball home.
Five minutes from time, Scotland added another when Fletcher advanced into the area and rounded the goalkeeper but his conclusion hit the crossbar but off the rebound, Robert Snodgrass hit the ball past the helpless Hogg.
But it was not over yet as on the 90th minute, Malta had a second player sent off as Luke Gambin was given marching orders by the referee for a late tackle in midfield.
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MALTA Andrew Hogg, Jonathan Caruana, Joseph Zerafa, Gareth Sciberras, Andrei Agius, Paul Fenech, Luke Gambin, Andre Schembri (66′ Roderick Briffa), Steve Borg, Ryan Scicluna (78′ Ryan Camilleri), Alfred Effiong (89′ Michael Mifsud).
Coach: Pietro Ghedin
SCOTLAND David Marshall, Callum Paterson, Andrew Robertson, Martin Russell, Grant Hanley, Barry Bannan, Darren Fletcher, Oliver Burke (66′ James Forrest), Chris Martin (69′ Steven Fletcher), Robert Snodgrass, Matt Ritchie (86′ Ikechi Anya).
Coach: Gordon Strachan
Referee: Yevhen Aranovskiy (UKR)
Assistant Referees: Oleksandr Voytyuk, Serhiy Bekker (UKR)
Fourth Official: Anatolii Zhabchenko (UKR)
Yellow Cards: Fenech, Effiong
Red Cards: 59′ Caruana, 90′ Gambin