Malta lost 3-0 to Croatia in the third match from Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup at the Stadion HNK Rijeka on Tuesday.
Unlike the games against Russia and Slovakia, the Maltese were constantly on the receiving end as Croatia were all out in search of an emphatic win after losing to Slovenia and narrowly beating Cyprus in the first two matches. For an hour, the Maltese controlled their opponents well but just past the hour, the hosts forged ahead, adding another two goals in the remaining minutes, including a penalty.
Mid-way through the first half, with the score still 0-0, the Maltese were denied a clear penalty after a defender handled the ball inside the area in an isolated goal scoring opportunity for Malta. A decision by the Swiss referee which definitely affected the game’s course of the action.
Photos: Copyright Mark Zammit Cordina / Malta FA
Malta coach Devis Mangia opted for two changes from the team which drew with Slovakia as Bjorn Kristensen and Steve Pisani replaced Luke Gambin and Paul Mbong.
Henry Bonello started in goal with Kurt Shaw, Enrico Pepe and Steve Borg at the back, Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli on the flanks with Bjorn Kristensen and Matthew Guillaumier employed in midfield, Teddy Teuma and Steve Pisani supporting Alex Satariano in attack.
On the other hand, Zlatko Dalić made six changes to the side which defeated Cyprus last Saturday. RIght-back Josip Juranović and left-back Darijo Melnjak were brought in, as well as midfielders Nikola Vlašić, Milan Badelj and Mateo Kovačić, with Mislav Oršić starting in attack.
The hosts went close after just two minutes when Nikola Vlašić received the ball on the right and rounded Shaw before concluding just wide. Malta replied with a counter-attack led by Joseph Mbong who advanced on the left before testng Livaković with an angled shot. However on the 14th, Mario Pašalić had a header from close range ending on the crossbar.
On the 19th, the Maltese appealed for a penalty after Kristensen sent Steve Pisani through with Juranović handling the ball inside the area in his attempt to clear the ball into safety. However, the incident went unnoticed by the referee who waved play on.
Malta risked conceding a goal just past the half hour with a back pass by Steve Borg but Bonelo came to the rescue, clearing the ball into safety. A few seconds later, Vlašić provided an excellent pass from the right but luckily no one tried to connect.
Bonello then performed a great save on a freekick by Oršić from the left on the 36th minute.
Two minutes in the second half, Vlašić, served by Juranović, tested Bonello with a shot from inside the area. Three minute later, the Malta goalkeeper intercepted an attempt by Oršić to lob the ball after taking advantage of a misunderstanding between Mbong and Shaw.
Croatia managed to break the deadlock on the 62nd minute when off a cross by Borna Barišić from the left, Ivan Perišić slammed the ball home from close range.
Fourteen minutes from time, Luka Modrić doubled the score as he converted a penalty awarded by Swiss referee Tschudi.
On the 90th, Perišić served the unmarked Josip Brekalo on the right and the latter hit home past the helpless Bonello to seal the issue with a third goal.
CROATIA Dominik Livaković, Duje Ćaleta-Car, Mateo Kovačić, Nikola Vlašić, Ante Budimir (54’ Ivan Perišić), Mario Pašalić (54’ Josip Brekalo), Mislav Oršić (78’ Kristijan Lovrić), Milan Badelj (54’ Luka Modrić), Josip Juranović, Domagoj Vida, Dario Melnjak (57’ Borna Barišić).
MALTA Henry Bonello, Kurt Shaw Ryan Camenzuli, Steve Borg (67’ Zach Muscat), Matthew Guillaumier, Joseph Mbong (67’ Juan Corbalan), Stephen Pisani (63’ Jake Grech), Enrico Pepe, Teddy Teuma, Bjorn Kristensen (82’ Luke Gambin), Alexander Satariano (46’ Kyrian Nwoko).
Referee: Lionel Tschudi (SUI)
Assistant Referee: Sladan Josipović, Matthias Sbrissa (SUI)
Fourth Official: Lukas Fähndrich (SUI)