The Malta Under-16 boys kicked off their UEFA Development Tournament this afternoon with a two nil defeat against Estonia, a score already reached at half-time. The team of coach Andreas Vella struggled to deal with the physical and fast Estonians, who displayed some neat moves. The hosts somewhat recovered after the break, but without creating clear goal scoring opportunities.
The UEFA Under-16 youth development tournaments can be best seen as a tool for all European Associations and Federations to help introducing young players to international football and eventually, a smooth pathway into the senior game. The UEFA launched these preparation tournaments in 2012 as a way of offering elite male and female youth players the opportunity to enjoy intense international matches and learn about overseas travel as part of a squad. The events have specific rules such as a minimum tournament playing time for each player and a penalty shootout in case of a draw, to emphasise player development rather the competition itself.
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Malta found it hard to find their feet in the opening phase and Estonia opened the scoring on twenty minutes, thanks to Maxim Vikman whose top corner shot had the better of Malta goalkeeper James Sissons. The hosts had their moments, sharing the exchanges in terms of possession throughout the first half but creating very little danger in the opponent’s box. On 41 minutes, the guests proved to be more constructive as they doubled the score with a header by Romet Nigula from an accurate Matthias Limberg cross.
Vella’s boys started well after the break with substitute Denzil Muscat coming close on 51 minutes with a grounder that missed target by an inch. On the other side, skilful Estonia captain Patrik Kristal had a couple of good opportunities to add a third for the guests, but either missed target or was denied by Malta goalkeeper James Sissons. In the last part of the match, Malta held more possession and created a few opportunities themselves, which did not have the desired effect, with the Estonians calmly playing out their two nil advantage till the end.
In another match, Iceland and Armenia set the tournament going with a 1-1 stalemate, with the Icelanders taking the penalties better. The boys tournament continues on Saturday at the Ta’ Qali training grounds with the Iceland v Estonia match at 11h while the Maltese boys will play at 15h against their counterparts of Armenia.
Malta James Sissons, Lydon Seychell (Adam Vella 58), Jayden Vella (Jake Borg 58), Shelom Magri (Karl Grima 67), Nathan Joyce (Eslam El-Nasar 76), Sheldon Borg, Claude Mercieca, Luke Bugeja (Jerome Baldacchino 67), Thomas Melillo, Keyon Ewurum (Emerson Piscopo 76), Hijazi Ubada (Denzil Muscat 46).
Miron Vetkal, Jevgeni Tsernjakov, Joosep Palts, Hubert Liiv (Airon Kollo 89), Maxim Vikman, Fjodor Jekimov, Matthias Limberg (Raian Soosalu 76), August Wagner (Maksimilian Skvortsov 76), Marlon Liivaru (Artur Dyakiv 59), Patrick Kristal, Romet Nigula (Kristjan Troon 89)
Referee Wayne Sammut (Malta)