A goal eight minutes in added time enabled Malta to rescue a point in a dramatic 2-2 draw with Cyprus in a clash between the two teams sharing the bottom place of Group H of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup at the AEK Arena in Larnaca on Monday.
The hosts were a better side throughout the first half during which they managed to take an early lead. On the restart, the Maltese gained more confidence and after equalising, held the initiative for long stretches. Ten minutes from time, Cyprus regained the lead following a swift counter-attack but Devis Mangia’s side’s never-say-die attitude enabled them to notch the equaliser deep into stoppage time.
Photos: Copyright domenic aquilina / Malta FA
The national team matches the record of five points in a qualifying competition which was established in the EURO 2008 qualifiers. A win and two draws are the best performance ever for Malta in a World Cup qualifying campaign.
Malta had four changes from the team which lost to Slovenia as Ryan Camenzuli was back after serving a one-match ban while Steve Borg, Jake Grech and Triston Caruana were all named in the starting line-up. They replaced Kurt Shaw, Steve Pisani, Shaun Dimech and the suspended Joseph Mbong.
Cyprus had a perfect start, taking the lead after just seven minutes when Kyriakou took advantage of an erratic clearance by Caruana and served Fotis Papoulis who beat Bonello with a fine curved shot.
On the 19th minute, a long pass from the left for Pieros Sotiriou put him in an ideal position in front of the goalkeeper but his effort was neutralised by Bonello.
Malta replied with an assist by Luke Montebello for Jake Grech on the right with the latter’s attempt saved by Michael on the 31st. A minute later, off a cross from the left, a header by Sotiriou was parried by the Malta custodian.
Malta equalised eight minutes in the second half. Jake Grech, served on the right by Teuma had an angled shot deflected into a corner and from the resulting corner by substitute Steve Pisani from the left, Zach Muscat headed home.
Zach Muscat concluded a good run with an assist for Steve PIsani but his conclusion was deflected by a defender and saved by the Cypriot goalkeeper on the 65th.
Six minutes later, Jurgen Degabriele, who had just replaced Grech, received an assist on the edge of the area but Kastanos deflected his attempt with the ball ending into a corner despite the goalkeeper’s desperate attempt to save. From the resulting corner by PIsani, goalkeeper Neofytos Michael deflected the ball, hitting the foot of the upright.
Off a cross by Demetriou from the right, Kyriakou’s header was turned into a corner by Bonello. A header by Sotiriou was parried by Bonello from the resulting corner by Kastanos.
Ten minutes from time, Cyprus regained the lead. Following a swift counter attack, Kakoulli’s angled shot from the left was deflected by Bonello, the ball reached the unmarked Pittas who served Pieros Sotirou and the Cyprus captain placed the ball at the back of the net.
Goalkeeper Bonello had to be replaced as he twisted his ankle and had to be replaced by Jake Galea.
Two minutes in added time, Teuma had two attempts blocked by the Cypriot rear-guard off a corner by Pisani.
But the game was not over yet as eight minutes in added time, Teddy Teuma delivered a freekick from the right and substitute Jurgen Degabriele flicked the ball past Michael from close range to equalise to the joy of the members of the South End Core who travelled to Larnaca to support the Malta national team.
CYPRUS Neofytos Michael, Marios Antoniades, Nicholas Ioannou, Marios Demetriou (86’ Paris Psaltis), Chambos Kyriakou (79’ Alexander Gogic), Pieros Sotiriou, Stelios Andreou (79’ Ioannis Pittas), Fotis Papoulis (86’ Nikolas Panayioutou), Costas Soteriou, Loizos Loizou (61’ Andronikos Kakoulli), Grigoris Kastanos.
MALTA Henry Bonello (82’ Jake Galea), Ryan Camenzuli, Steve Borg (56’ Steve Borg), Jake Grech (71’ Jurgen Degabriele), Luke Montebello, Paul Mbong (71’ Shaun Dimech), Enrico Pepe, Teddy Teuma, Cain Attard, Zach Muscat, Triston Caruana (46’ Steve Pisani).
Referee: Dennis Higler (NED)
Assistant Referees: Erwin Zeinstra, Mario Diks (NED)
Fourth official: Jeroen Manschot (NED)