Russia defeated Malta 3-1 in the opening match from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup at the National Stadium on Wednesday.
The Maltese shared the exchanges with their opponents early in the game but then conceded two goals. A goal by Joseph Mbong put Malta back in contention as Devis Mangia’s side gained more confidence but another goal on the 89th minute sealed the issue for Russia. Unfortunately, at least, two of the three goals could have easily been avoided but Malta must now turn its focus on the game against Slovakia on Saturday.
Mangia opted to field a practically unchanged side from the team which drew with the Faroe Islands – the only change being the inclusion of Bjorn Kristensen in midfield, replacing Luke Gambin.
Henry Bonello started in goal with Kurt Shaw, Andrei Agius and Steve Borg at the back, Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli on the flanks, Bjorn Kristensen and Matthew Guillaumier in midfield with Teddy Teuma and Jurgen Degabriele supporting Luke Montebello in attack.
The locals shared the exchanges with their opponents in the opening minutes and it was Malta who had the first attempt at goal with Joseph Mbong, served on the right by Teddy Teuma testing Anton Shunin with a shot from outside the area which was parried by the Russian goalkeeper.
Russia, however, took the lead on the 23rd minute when Ionov exchanged the ball with Karavaev on the left and passed the ball to Daniil Fomin who served Artem Dzyuba and the Russia captain slotted the ball from underneath goalkeeper Bonello.
Three minutes later, the Russians threatened once again with a fierce shot by Kuzyaev but Bonello performed a great save.
Dzyuba went close once again with a header ending just over the bar off a cross by Karavaev from the left.
On the 35th minute, the visitors doubled the score courtesy of Mario Fernandes, served on the right by Dzyuba, hitting low past Bonello.
On the restart, the Malta coach made two changes replacing Montebello and Degabriele, who both had a relatively quiet outing, with Alex Satariano and Paul Mbong.
Malta reduced the gap twelve minutes in the second half. Joseph Mbong took advantage of a failed clearance by Karaaev and pulled to right, beating goalkeeper Anton Shunin with a fine rising shot from a close angle.
On the 69th minute, Malta went close to equalising with a great volley by Teddy Teuma from outside the area which ended just wide following a short clearance by a defender.
One minute from time, Russia restored the two-goal lead when Aleksandr Golovin intercepted an erratic clearance by Henry Bonello, for whom this was definitely not one of his best performances, and served Aleksei Miranchuk and the latter passed the ball to Aleksandr Sobolov who hit home past the Malta goalkeeper.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina/MFA
MALTA Henry Bonello, Kurt Shaw, Ryan Camenzuli (86′ Juan Corbalan), Steve Borg, Matthew Guillaumier, Joseph Mbong, Luke Montebello (46′ Alex Satariano), Andrei Agius (88′ Kyrian Nwoko), Teddy Teuma, Jurgen Degabriele (46′ Paul Mbong), Bjorn Kristensen (74′ Steve Pisani).
RUSSIA Anton Shunin, Mário Fernandes, Vyacheslav Karavaev, Andrei Semenov, Ilzat Akhmetov, Daniil Fomin (57′ Aleksei Miranchuk), Georgi Dzhikiya, Aleksandr Golovin, Aleksei Ionov (57′ Rifat Zhemaletdinov), Artem Dzyuba (83′ Aleksandr Sobolev), Daler Kuzyaev (78′ Andrei Mostovoy).
Referee: Peter Kjaesgaard (DEN)
Assistant referee Victor Skytte, Jesper Dahl (DEN)
Fourth official Morten Krogh (DEN)
Bonello gave the ball to Russia and gave them dangerous opportunities at least twice and seemed somewhat shaky on a couple of other occasions. There were some good saves, but to me it seemed like he was far from his best on this occasion.
Three silly mistakes from the defense enabled Russia to a comfortable win at Ta Qali. The performance of Malta was pleasing but not enough. One question to ask is why Mangia substituted two of the best defenders looking for an equalizer, instead enabling Russia to secure the three points with their third goal..
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