Despite losing 1-3 to Ukraine on Wednesday, Malta can look back on a positive opener in the 2024 UEFA Under-19 Championship qualifying round group 7.
The team led by coach Paul Gatt shared the exchanges for most of the match against their more quoted opponents, which was more than was expected versus the hot favourites to win this group. Malta played with flair, took every opportunity to move forward and were rewarded for this approach on the hour, scoring the equaliser. However, a late rally brought the victory home for the Ukrainians.
Photos courtesy of www.stephengatt.com
Apart from the opening phase, the first half was fairly balanced with Malta combining well, keeping the rear-guard of the visitors on the alert. On 17 minutes, Ukraine broke the deadlock from a direct free-kick by Bohdan Manuylov, a ball carried by the wind from the left wing, completely misjudged by Malta goalkeeper Luca Camilleri. Close to the half hour mark, Sunderland based Timur Tuterov should have done better with an on-target attempt from close-range but this time Camilleri saved. On 39 minutes, Ethan Debono had a free chance to equalise from a precise Zak Barbara cross but the Australian based striker wasted the opportunity, Malta’s best moment before the break.
Malta started the second half strong and after three minutes, Barbara’s attempt from the edge of the area nearly surprised Ukraine goalkeeper Davyd Fesyuk, but the attempt of the elegant Valletta midfielder missed target by an inch. On 55 minutes, towering centre forward Matvii Ponomarenko nearly capitalised on a defensive error when, from a Tuterov cross, Camilleri hesitated too long but the Dynamo Kyiv forward saw his effort go over the crossbar.
Close to the hour, Malta forced out a series of corners, pushing the visitors back into their box. In one of these corners, Barbara’s inswinger found the net, with Ponomarenko heading over his own goalkeeper, a deserved equaliser for Malta. However, on 71 minutes, Ukraine were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box, with Ponomarenko taking the kick, shooting towards goal with substitute Ensell Attard changing direction of his attempt to give Camilleri no chance, a soft goal indeed.
The hosts were looking for an equaliser and on 76 minutes, a Barbara scorcher brought the best out if Fesyuk. With four minutes regular time left to play, substitute Kaiden Fenech blasted his free attempt high over the bar, a real missed opportunity to get back on level terms. In the attack that followed on the other side, Ukraine put the outcome of the match beyond doubt, scoring the third through Tuterov, who produced an unstoppable grounded from the edge of the box to seal Ukraine’s win. Deep into stoppage time, Fesyuk turned Barbara’s top corner attempt from far distance free-kick into a corner, to deny the hosts a consolation goal.
In another match on Wednesday, Slovakia and Kosovo shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw. Malta will play Slovakia next this Saturday and Kosovo on Tuesday, all with a kick-off time of 14:30 at the Centenary Stadium.
Malta Luca Camilleri, Kian Vella (Kaiden Fenech 77), Sven Xerri, Ivin Farrugia, Myron Micallef (Andrew Apap Bologna 72), Isaiah Chukunyere, Lucas Caruana, Zak Barbara, Ethan Debono (Ensell Attard 64), Kian Leonardi (Matthias Fenech 64), Sean Gatt.
Ukraine David Fesyuk, Mykola Oharkov (Denys Dykyi 89), Taras Mykhavko, Maksym Melnychenko, Oleksiy Husyev, Vitaliy Mykhayliv (Ivan Yermachkov 86), Daniil Vashchenko (Yevheniy Mykytiuk 63), Dmytro Kremchanin, Bohdan Manuylov (Roman Salenko 63), Timur Tuterov, Matviy Ponomarenko (Serhiy Pancheko 86).
Referee Chrysovalantis Theouli (Cyprus)