A goal early in the second half by FC Kobenhavn’s Benjamin Verbic gave Slovenia a narrow win over Malta in a match from Group F of the European Qualifiers at the National Stadium on Friday.
This was the fourth defeat in as many matches for Pietro Ghedin’s side while Slovenia maintain their unbeaten record with a second win which keeps them in second place, two points behind England and two ahead of Slovakia.
Slovenia were a better side throughout the ninety minutes, creating several goal scoring opportunities. However Malta did have two good chances thanks to which they could have taken the lead through Luke Gambin and Andre Schembri.
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Ghedin made four changes from the team which lost to Lithuania as he replaced Steve Borg, Bjorn Kristensen, the suspended Jonathan Caruana and the injured Paul Fenech with Ryan Camilleri, Rowen Muscat, Sam Magri and Luke Gambin. Gambin was therefore back in the starting line-up for Malta after serving a two-match ban while for Sam Magri, this marked his debut after being promoted from the Under-21 side.
Andrew Hogg started in goal with Sam Magri, Andrei Agius and Zach Muscat as the three central defenders, Ryan Camilleri and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks, Gareth Sciberras, Rowen Muscat and Luke Gambin in midfield and Andre Schembri supporting Michael Mifsud in attack. Michael Mifsud therefore matched David Carabott’s record of 122 national team appearances.
Slovenia almost took the lead on the 8th minute when Josip Ilicic took advantage of an erratic clearance by Ryan Camilleri but his conclusion scraped past the post. Five minutes later, Hogg was superb blocking three consecutive attempts – by Valter Birsa from outside the area, Milivoje Novakovic and Benjamin Verbic from close range. In a counter-attack for Malta, on the 23rd minute, Schembri beat Bostjan Cesar on the run on the right flank but Luke Gambin hit wide.
On the 29th minute, Birsa failed to connect off an inviting cross by Verbic but in a swift counter-attack, Mifsud advance on the right flank, serving Luke Gambin, the latter’s shot from outside the area was partially saved by Jan Oblak and off the rebound, Andre Schembri miskicked the ball, ending over the bar.
Slovenia took the lead two minutes in the second half when off an assist from the right by Kurtic, Benjamin Verbic intelligently beat Hogg with a back-heel shot.
Eight minutes from time, Andre Schembri had another good chance when he received the ball just outside the area but his conclusion was blocked by a defender.
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MALTA Andrew Hogg, Sam Magri, Joseph Zerafa, Gareth Sciberras, Andrei Agius, Michael Mifsud (77′ Jean Paul Farrugia), Luke Gambin, Rowen Muscat, Andre Schembri, Ryan Camilleri (68′ Steve Borg), Zach Muscat.
SLOVENIA Jan Oblak, Nejc Skubic, Miral Samardzic, Bostjan Cesar, Rene Krhin, Josip Ilicic, Jasmin Kurtic, Valter Birsa (72′ Nik Omladic), Milivoje Novakovic (83′ Andraz Sporar), Dejan Trajkovski (63′ Boban Jovic), Benjamin Verbic.
Referee: Pawel Raczkowski (POL)
Assistant Referees: Michal Obukowicz, Radoslaw Siejka (POL)
Fourth Official: Romasz Musial (POL)