Spain prove too strong for Under-17 side

The Malta Under-17 side’s tournament opener was a tough one against the world class team of Spain, who are for decades producing fine-tuned talents, including this current Under-17 squad. They start as mini-tournament favourites, with the other two participants in this qualifying group being Slovakia and North Macedonia.

Malta Under 17 coach Francesco Macri experienced a positive built-up to this tournament by beating Albania 2-0 on away soil in a friendly last month, while the second match was won by the hosts by the odd goal in three. However, Spain was most definitely too strong for the hosts on Wednesday.

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On 13 minutes, Spain were awarded a penalty when Lydon Seychell allegedly fouled Toni Fernandez in the box. The Barcelona attacker stepped up himself and sent Malta goalkeeper James Sissons the wrong way to give his side an early lead. Eight minutes later, Adrian Arnun doubled from close-range for the visitors from a wonderful attack, set-up by David Otorbi from the right flank, assisted by Toni Fernandez.

A third goal was added on 28 minutes when Otorbi was sent through on the right flank once more, providing Adrian Arnun with a simple tap-in, immediately followed by a fourth Spanish goal, this time an unstoppable top corner scorcher from team captain Jose Reyes Lopez which gave Sissons no chance. On 37 minutes, Adrian Arnun could have sealed his hattrick already by hitting the crossbar.

Substitute Oscar Bazaga should have added the fifth immediately after the break but the unmarked Atletico Madrid striker kicked against the post. Another substitute, Jose Fernandez, scored Spain’s fifth in the 51st minute with an angled shot from just outside the box which totally surprised Sissons. But the Melita custodian made up for his error a few minutes later by spectacularly saving a top corner attempt by Toni Fernandez while from the resultant corner-kick he was once more on the alert by stopping a close-range Adrian Arnun effort.

Malta tried to venture forward whenever it could with some quick combination football, with Thomas Melillo doing well in midfield with some neat passing. However, on 63 minutes, Adrian Arnun scored Spain’s sixth goal from the rebound after Albert Navarro’s attempt hit the post and bounced back on the pitch for the Real Valladolid striker to notch his hat-trick into the empty net. Six minutes later, Guillermo Fernandez, another substitute, was allowed to penetrate through the heart of the Malta defence, combining well with Victor Fernandez before slotting home.

The final twenty minutes brought some anxious moments for the Maltese but the defence, led by Shelom Magri, somehow managed to control the Spaniards until the final whistle, with Sissons also performing a number of great saves.

In another match on Wednesday, Slovakia defeated North Macedonia 4-0. Malta will play Slovakia next Saturday at the same venue, kick off 14h30, before closing proceedings versus North Macedonia next Tuesday, again at the Centenary Stadium, kick off 11h.

Malta James Sissons, Adam Vella (Jayden Vella 60), Lydon Seychell, Sheldon Borg, Shelom Magri, Jake Attard, Jerome Baldacchino (Dejan Farrugia 83), Luke Bugeja (Nathan Joyce 60), Thomas Melillo, Denzil Muscat, Emerson Piscopo (Nathan Zerafa 60)

Spain Alvaro Gonzalez, Jesus Fortea, Joan Martinez, Landry Farre, Albert Navarro (Jorge Salamo 68), Xavi Espart, Pol Duran (Guillermo Fernandez 46), Toni Fernandez (Victor Fernandez 60), David Otorbi (Jose Fernandez 46), Jose Reyes Lopez (Oscar Bazaga 46), Adrian Arnun.

Referee Antoni Bandic (Bosnia Herzegovina)