With a goal in the first half and another two after the break, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-0 in the final match from Group F of the European Qualifiers at the Stadion Antona Maltinskeho in Trnava. A win which enables them to secure the runner-up spot in the group as Scotland drew 2-2 with Slovenia in Ljubljana in another match on Sunday and although both Scotland and Slovakia end on level points, the latter have a better goal-difference.
Malta, on the other hand, ends its commitments at the bottom of the table with just one point from ten matches.
Pietro Ghedin, in his last match as Malta coach, opted for just one change from the team which drew with Lithuania as he replaced the suspended Zach Muscat with the returning Ryan Fenech. After opting for a 4-1-2-3 formation on Thursday rather than the usual 5-3-2, Ghedin started with a 4-5-1 formation with Hogg in goal, Steve Borg, Ryan Camilleri, Andrei Agius and Joseph Zerafa in defence, Andre Schembri, Paul Fenech, Ryan Fenech and Luke Gambin with Alfred Effiong in attack.
As expected, the hosts went all out on the attack, having the first attempt at goal on the 4th minute with a Milan Skriniar effort neutralised by Hogg. Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka then had to rush out of the area to anticipate Effiong following a through pass by Ryan Fenech. A freekick by Vladimir Weiss on the 24th minute ended just wide. Five minutes later, Paul Fenech sent Alfred Effiong through and his conclusion from the left hit the side netting.
Slovakia however managed to break the deadlock on the 33rd minute thanks to Adam Nemec, who anticipated Hogg with a low shot from the left when served inside the area.
A freekick by Ondrej Duda four minutes from the end of the first half almost saw the ball end at the back of the net following a deflection by a defender but finally ended into a corner.
Ten minutes in the second half, Hogg blocked a close range effort by Skriniar when served by Hamsik on the left. Two minutes later, the Malta custodian performed another good save on a freekick by Rusnak.
Slovakia doubled the score on the 62nd minute when Joseph Zerafa lost possession on the edge of the area and Adam Nemec pulled to the left before hitting low past Hogg.
Ondrej Duda made it 3-0 on the 69th minute when he slotted past the Malta custodian following an inviting pass by Rusnak from the right.
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In stoppage time, Jaroslav Mihalik almost added another but his diagonal shot from the left scraped past the post.
SLOVAKIA Martin Dubravka, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Vladimir Weiss, Ondrej Duda, Albert Rusnak (87’ Jaroslav Mihalik), Adam Nemec, Milan Skriniar, Tomas Hubocan (87’ Robert Mazan), Marek Hamsik, Stanislav Lobotka.
MALTA Andrew Hogg, Joseph Zerafa, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius, Ryan Fenech, Paul Fenech (88’ Clyde Borg), Andre Schembri, Luke Gambin (75’ Clayton Failla), Ryan Camilleri, Alfred Effiong, Steve Pisani.
Referee: Paolo Mazzoleni (ITA)
Assistant Referees: Mauro Tonolini, Andrea Crispo (ITA)
Fourth Official: Davide Massa (ITA)
Yellow Cards: P. Fenech, Pisani, Duda, Hubocan, Schembri, Zerafa