The Malta Under-21 team did not manage to surprise the visitors from Kazakhstan tonight, with the team from the far east beating the locals 2-0. Without setting any houses on fire, the fast Kazakhs were the better side, creating a good number of goal scoring opportunities throughout the match. The hosts found it initially hard to reach the strikers up front, which somewhat changed after the break, but without the desired result.
Nearly no surprises in the Malta starting line-up, as the only change when compared to the Belgium and Scotland games last month was the inclusion of Nikolai Micallef, who was preferred on the left back position over Karl Mohnani. Messina based Andrew Zammit, once more captain for the Maltese, played his 17th official match for the Under-21s, one of the two starters who play their trade abroad, the other one being goalkeeper Hugo Sacco who is under contract with the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds in the USA. For the Kazakhs, the only foreign based player was Denis Mitrofanov, who plays for Isloch Minsk in Belarus.
The first 45 minutes passed by uneventful, with the visitors having a slight upper hand. Malta tried to reach their forward line with neat built-ups, but the Kazakhs pressed early, disrupting passing which left Andrea Zammit and Mattia Veselji up front too isolated. The best chances were therefore for Kazakhstan.
Within the minute, the visitors tested Sacco, with a Nurgaini Buribayev attempt skimming the crossbar. On 15 minutes, right winger Adilkhan Dobay was sent through, but failed to find the net with only Sacco to beat. On 35 minutes, the unmarked Mitrofanov should have done better with his grounder from inside the area but the left winger’s attempt did not trouble Sacco much. The best opportunity for the visitors in the first half arrived on 40 minutes, when Buribayev produced a curling shot from just outside the box, turned into a corner by Sacco.
Four minutes after the break, Gianluca Sciberras took a free-kick from about 20 meters distance which missed target by an inch. In the attack on the other side that followed, Sacco did well to stop a powerful Abylaikhan Nazymkhanov scorcher from the edge of the box. On 52 minutes, the Kazakhs broke the deadlock thanks to an unstoppable left footer of Aibar Abdulla, which left Sacco without a chance. Two minutes later, Nickolai Micallef missed a sitter for Malta from a precise Andrew Borg cross from the right.
While Malta surged forward for an equaliser, the visitors were dangerous as well through several attempts with lomg distance shots, but Sacco managed to save in all situations. However, on 71 minutes, Damir Kassabulat doubled for the Kazakhs with a free header at the second post from a corner action. The team of Ivan Woods tried hard to get back into the match but remained rather ineffective up front in the remaining time left.
The Maltese Under-21 side is closing the year with one last outing on Sunday in a friendly match against Lithuania
Malta Hugo Sacco, Nikolai Micallef (Karl Mohnani 77), Owen Spiteri (Jake Micallef 77), Jake Vassallo, Matthew Ellul, Andrew Borg (Basil Tuma 59), Gianluca Sciberras, Kurt Bondin, Aleandro Garzia (Matteo Gambin 77), Andrea Zammit, Mattia Veselji.
Kazakhstan Temirlan Anarbakov (Nikita Pivkin 84), Adilkhan Dobay, Damir Kasabulat, Adilbek Zhumakhanov, Meirambek Kalmyrza, Yegor Tkachenko (Lev Kurgin 66), Abylaikhan Nazymkhanov (David Yessimbekov 46), Adilet Sadybekov, Denis Mitrofanov (Nurali Zhaksylyk 66), Nurgaini Buribayev, Aibar Abdulla (Saif Popov 77).
Referee Antoine Paul Chiaramonti (Andorra)