Malta earned its first point in Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup thanks to a 2-2 draw with Slovakia at the Štadión Antona Malatinského in Trnava on Saturday.
The Maltese had a brilliant first half performance during which they stunned Slovakia, taking a two-goal lead courtesy of Luke Gambin and Alex Satariano. However quick-fire goals by Dávid Strelec and Milan Škriniar early in the second half restored equilibrium. From then onwards, the boys in red controlled their opponents well to leave the pitch with a positive result which definitely boosts the team’s morale ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Croatia in Rijeka.
Malta coach Devis Mangia opted for four changes from the team which lost 1-3 to Russia on Wednesday as Enrico Pepe and Luke Gambin replaced Andrei Agius and Bjorn Kristensen while nineteen-year olds Paul Mbong and Alex Satariano were preferred to Jurgen Degabriele and Luke Montebello.
On the other hand, Slovakia coach Štefan Tarkovič retained just four players from the team which earned a point in Cyprus: defenders Milan Škriniar, Dávid Hancko and midfielders Patrik Hrošovský and Juraj Kucka – the new Slovak captain due to the absence of Marek Hamšík.
Malta managed to take the lead on the 16th minute when off an assist by Joseph Mbong from the right, Luke Gambin scored a great goal with a well-placed shot from outside the area in the top left corner.
Four minutes later, Malta doubled the score. Ryan Camenzuli delivered a great cross from the left and the unmarked Alexander Satariano headed home in style past goalkeeper Kuciak.
On the 27th minute, Michal Ďuriš was unlucky not to reduce the gap when he lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper with the ball scraping past the post.
Four minutes in the second half, the hosts reduced the gap when off a Mak freekick from the left, captain Milan Škriniar headed the ball from the right for Dávid Strelec to head home past Bonello.
On the 52nd minute, Slovakia equalised courtesy of Milan Škriniar who headed home from close range when served by Ján Greguš from the right.
Malta could have regained the lead three minutes later when off a cross by Camenzuli from the left, Alex Satariano’s header ended just wide.
On the hour, Teddy Teuma came to the rescue, clearing the ball off the goal line a Róbert Boženík effort after he was left unmarked on the right. Six minutes later, Teuma blocked a goal-bound header by Škriniar.
In a counter-attack for Malta, off a cross by Camenzuli, the ball reached Jake Grech on the right and his attempt was neutralised by the Slovakia goalkeeper on the 76th minute. Two minutes later, Teuma served Kyrian Nwoko on the right and the latter’s angled shot was turned into a corner by Kuciak.
Nine minutes from time, goalkeeper Henry Bonello performed a good save on a Róbert Mak effort from outside the area as the hosts continued to push harder for the winner. However the Maltese held on to obtain the first point in Group H.
SLOVAKIA Dušan Kuciak, Martin Valjent, Ján Greguš, Patrik Hrošovský (82′ Ivan Schranz), Milan Škriniar, Dávid Hancko (38′ Jakub Holúbek), Tomáš Suslov (72′ Albert Rusnák), Juraj Kucka (46′ Dávid Strelec), Róbert Mak, Michal Ďuriš (46′ Róbert Boženík), Martin Koscelník.
MALTA Henry Bonello, Kurt Shaw, Ryan Camenzuli, Steve Borg, Matthew Guillaumier, Joseph Mbong, Paul Mbong (68′ Kyrian Nwoko), Enrico Pepe, Teddy Teuma (90+1′ Bjorn Kristensen), Luke Gambin (68′ Jake Grech), Alex Satariano (79′ Steve Pisani).
Referee: Harald Lechner (AUT)
Assistant Referee: Andreas Heidenreich, Markus Gutschi (AUT)
Fourth official: Christian Petru Ciochirca (AUT)