Goals by Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli gave interim coach Gareth Southgate a winning start as England defeated Malta 2-0 in front of 81,781 spectators, including around two thousand Maltese fans, at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
As expected, England went all out on the attack right from the word go and the Malta defence at times looked a bit shaky with some loose marking during the first half. However after the break, the Maltese defence was more careful, stopping the Three Lions from increasing the lead. For Malta, goalkeeper Andrew Hogg was prominent with a number of fine saves.
Apart from replacing the suspended Jonathan Caruana and Luke Gambin, Malta coach Pietro Ghedin opted for another two changes as he left Birkirkara duo Joseph Zerafa and Ryan Scicluna out of the starting line-up. Ryan Camilleri and Zach Muscat were employed as central defenders along with Andrei Agius with Steve Borg being shifted to the right flank while Alex Muscat was employed on the left flank. Bjorn Kristensen joined Gareth Sciberras and Paul Fenech in midfield with captain Andre Schembri supporting Alfred Effiong in attack.
The locals held the initiative right from the start, going close on the 7th minute with a fierce shot by captain Wayne Rooney from the edge of the area which was palmed out by goalkeeper Andrew Hogg. On the 11th, an angled shot by Jesse Lingard was partially saved by the Malta custodian.
On the 22nd minute, England threatened the Maltese defence once again when off a cross from the right by Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli’s great header was partially saved by Hogg and off the rebound, Daniel Sturridge hit sky high
England finally managed to take the lead on the 29th minute when off a cross from the right, Daniel Sturridge headed the ball in the bottom right corner, beating goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.
Four minutes later, Jesse Lingard with another header from close range and hardly a minute later, Gary Cahill hit just wide from an ideal position inside the area.
England doubled the score on the 38th minute when off an assist by Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli’s first attempt was blocked by Hogg but off the rebound, the Tottenham midfielder hit past the helpless Malta goalkeeper.
Eight minutes in the second half, Hogg was superb as he turned into a corner a fine freekick by Rooney and on the 64th, a good move on the left between Alli, Lingard and Theo Walcott ended with the Arsenal striker’s close-range shot blocked by the Malta goalkeeper. Jesse Lingard tried his luck with a powerful shot from outside the area on the 69th but ended just wide.
Nine minutes from time, Malta had the first attempt at goal when off a Paul Fenech freekick from the left, Andrei Agius’ first-time effort was blocked by Joe Hart into a corner.
England could have made it 3-0 on the 85th but off an inviting cross by Marcus Rashford from the right, Dele Alli hit high from close range.
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ENGLAND Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Ryan Bertnard (19′ Danny Rose), Jordan Henderson, Gary Cahill, John Stones, Theo Walcott (68′ Marcus Rashford), Dele Alli, Daniel Sturridge (73′ Jamie Vardy), Wayne Rooney, Jesse Lingard.
MALTA Andrew Hogg, Gareth Sciberras, Andrei Agius, Steve Borg, Paul Fenech, Andre Schembri (85′ Rowen Muscat), Ryan Camilleri, Bjorn Kristensen, Alfred Effiong (76′ Michael Mifsud), Zach Muscat, Alex Muscat.
Referee: Stefan Johannesson (SWE)
Assistant Referees: Fredrik Nilsson, Mehmet Culum (SWE)
Fourth Official: Mohammed Al Hakim