Sara Saliba cancelled Latvia’s lead to help Malta earn a hard-fought draw against Latvia in the opening game of this year’s UEFA Development Tournament.
The two teams produced an end-to-end match with a lot of goalscoring opportunities for either side, with the Maltese team then managing to fend off the Baltic side from the penalty spot.
Led by Kathleen Saliba, Malta had U-19’s members Francesca Bartolo, Kaysia Micallef and Lexine Farrugia – captain, in the starting formation.
On the other hand, Latvia’s squad was composed mainly by domestic-based players and also two players who ply their trade in the United States.
Photos courtesy of Stephen Gatt
The girls in red made their intentions clear from the start when Lexine Farrugia tried her luck from long range just to be denied by the Latvia goalkeeper.
The Raiders Lija player tried her luck again with another shot but this time her effort sailed over the bar.
Francesca Bartolo, who was featuring as a left-back in this game, also tried to surprise the Latvia goalkeeper but her well-struck shot failed to hit the target.
Malta kept piling the pressure on the away side and midfielder Ema Micallef forced the Latvian custodian into action with another effort from outside the penalty area.
Latvia’s first chance of the opening 45 minutes came through Paula Dzene but her freekick was not enough to beat Erika Muscat.
Just before the break, Latvia came close to score twice through Uma Upite whose close-range effort went wide before Dzene tested Muscat with a long-distance effort.
At the interval, Malta made one change with Assikura Women’s League star Sara Saliba replacing Lara May Azzopardi in the number 9 role.
Latvia threatened first with Dzene letting fly a shot which ended up smothered by Muscat’s hands.
The Baltic nation registered another effort past the hour mark through Kassandra Dzene but her freekick went wide.
Moments later, though, it was Dzene herself who broke the deadlock with a brilliant effort from outside the area that beat Muscat.
Malta staged the perfect reaction when Sara Saliba beat her marker before slotting the ball past Latvia’s goalkeeper for an immediate leveller.
With the stalemate prevailing in regular time, it was time for a penalty shoot-out to determine the winner.
Farrugia, Saliba, Bartolo and Ylenia Azzopardi all managed to convert their penalties with goalkeeper Muscat denying Latvia twice to secure Malta’s victory.
The Maltese selection will return to action on Friday when they host Slovakia in their second game from this tournament.
E. Muscat; L. Azzopardi (46 S. Saliba), F. Bartolo, L. Farrugia, A. Micallef, E. Micallef (66 N. Attard), K. Micallef (79 Y. Azzopardi), T. Scicluna, A. Vassallo (57 S. Francalanza), N. Celeste (79 L. Calleja), L. Frendo (66 I. Abela).
Coach: Kathleen Saliba.
K. Ustinenkova; G. Andersone (71 S. Laskova), K. Dzene, K. Garanca (61 M. Zalite), N. Pincuka (61 H. Reinfelde), P. Dzene (79 S. Zalite), U. Upite (61 R. Baltrusaite), K. Ruja, M. Klementjeva, A. Prymak, L. Steinberga (71 L. Zelve).
Coach: Rihard Gorkss.