The Malta national Under-17 team has ended their UEFA commitments for the year with a draw against North Macedonia on Tuesday. It was a balanced game with could have gone either side, however, a draw can be considered as a fair outcome of the encounter.
There was only one change when compared the narrow defeat against Slovakia last Saturday (0-1) as Jake Attard was back into the starting eleven, filling in the void of Adam Vella on the right flank.
Photo courtesy of www.stephengatt.com
Thomas Melillo came close to break the deadlock for Malta after ten minutes play, but his shot missed the power to really trouble Macedonian goalkeeper David Iloski. The opening phase was really balanced, including a few setpieces for the visitors, without creating any danger.
Malta had a penalty claim on the half hour when Nathan Zerafa was clearly held back in the box but the referee saw nothing wrong. Not much later on the other side, Admir Ljatifi’s attempt from the edge of the box missed target. The same Ljatifi showed some great skill moments later with an individual attempt entering the box but Malta goalkeeper James Sissons saved his cross-shot without much problems.
The visitors took the lead, not totally undeserved, on 38 minutes when Edin Etoski headed home at the second post from a Ljatifi cross from the right.
With Nathan Joyce and Andreas Vella, coach Francesco Macri made two changes before the start of the second half which showed further attacking intensions. By taking over the initiative, Malta were clearly the better side but initially without creating many chances, with the visitors trying to penetrate through the counter-attack.
On 70 minutes, Melillo’s grounder was saved by the Macedonian goalkeeper with Malta nearly capitalising on a defensive error. Four minutes later on the other side, Gorazd Ristosvki’s free-kick on the edge of the area was saved in style by Sissons, one of Malta’s best players during the whole tournament. In the attack that followed on the other side, captain Sheldon Borg was close to equalise from a corner action, but his close-range effort was somehow blocked by goalkeeper Iloski.
With ten minutes regular time left to play, Ljatifi brought the best out of Sissons with an angled shot from just outside the box but the Melita custodian saved once more. On 87 minutes, the North Macedonians escaped when Shaun Xiberras headed against the crossbar from an ideal angle, with Iloski miraculously blocking before the ball bounced back into play. However, on the stroke of full-time, Melillo’s unstoppable scorcher finished top corner, scoring a deserved equaliser for the home-side.
Malta ended up with ten players when, deep into stoppage time, Sheldon Borg was shown a second yellow card.
Later on the day, Spain beat Slovakia 5-1 to clinch top spot in this group, while also the Slovakians qualified to the elite group in March next year as group runners-up. Malta and North Macedonia were eliminated.
Malta James Sissons, Sheldon Borg, Shelom Magri, Jayden Vella (Shaun Xiberras 69), Jake Attard, Luke Bugeja (Nathan Joyce 46), Jerome Baldacchino (Andreas Vella 46), Ismael Vella, Thomas Melillo, Claude Mercieca (Denzil Muscat 60), Nathan Zerafa (Emerson Piscopo 78).
Coach: Francesco Macri
North Macedonia David Iloski, Gorazd Ristovski, Luka Atanasovski, Emir Sabotikj, Zlatko Radevski, Kamencho Andonovski, Arif Loki (Stefan Mladenovski 46), Admir Ljatifi, Abdulla Aslani (Marko Kish 65), Almir Jakupi (Albion Musliu 46), Edin Etoski (Luka Gavroski 86).
Referee Marek Radina (Czech Republic)