A spirited and brave performance by the Malta Under-21 team was undone by an unlucky late goal as the boys deserved better in a 1-0 defeat to Kosovo in a friendly international in Antalya on Tuesday.
Coach Silvio Vella made only one change from the hard-fought 2-1 victory over Turkmenistan on Friday with Balzan midfielder on loan at OFK Belgrade, Neil Frendo, coming in for his full debut at Under-21 level.
The Maltese boys produced a vibrant 90 minutes in their usual tactical shape of 4-1-4-1 with keeper Andreas Vella brilliant in goal, effecting a number of good saves. Kurt Shaw also had a very good game in front of the defence led superbly by skipper Jean Borg and his fellow Valletta counterpart Nicholas Pulis.
Also in the back four, the ever present Michele Sansone and Connor Zammit, both running tirelessly and impressive on the flanks.
In the middle of the park, Myles Beerman and Aidan Friggieri once again combined pace and agility on the wings aided in the centre by Frendo and the other foreign-based player, Marcus Grima who plays in England with Barnsley.
Meanwhile in attack, Mosta player Zachary Brincat was his usual enterprising self.
After a strong start by Kosovo, Malta started building confidence and creating chances. On 32 minutes, Friggieri won a great ball in midfield before passing to Beerman on the left. The latter drifted a low cross, Brincat headed the ball down but Frendo sliced the ball wide.
In the second half, Kosovo were dangerous with an Erolind Krasniqi free-kick in the 69th minute bringing the very best out of keeper Vella who made a fine save.
Malta found the back of the net on 72 minutes but the goal was ruled out as Brincat was judged to have been in an offside position following an intelligent throughball by substitute Jan Busuttil.
Kosovo replied a minute later but Vella made another great save from Krasniqi’s curling shot.
Seven minutes from time, Malta were again dangerous from a counter attack as Busuttil made a good run but his shot from just outside the box was saved by the Kosovo keeper.
The goal that decided the match in Kosovo’s favour came in the 87th minute.
A cross from the left was met by substitute Dagert Hoxha whose header was blocked again by Vella. From the rebound, another substitute Valmir Veliu slotted the ball home from close range.
After the goal, Vella made a host of substitutions with Zack Cassar, who was making his debut at this level, intercepting really well to stop a dangerous counter-attack by Kosovo.
MALTA Andreas Vella (Timmy Aquilina 91), Michele Sansone, Connor Zammit (Zack Cassar 88), Nicholas Pulis, Jean Borg, Kurt Shaw, Aidan Friggieri (Russell Fenech 88), Neil Frendo (Jan Busuttil 56), Marcus Grima (David Xuereb 88), Myles Beerman, Zachary Brincat (Paul Mbong 85).
KOSOVO Florian Smakiqi, Lirim Mema, Leard Sadriv, Besfort Kolgeci, Kreshnik Hadrizi, Aizan Geza, Ardit Gashi, Gezim Pepsi, Erelind Krasniqi, Edmond Ramadani, Zectrim Kryeziu
Referee: Turan Cakil