Under-19s beaten 0-3 by Slovakia

The Malta Under-19 national team lost 0-3 to Slovakia in another match from the UEFA Under-19 Championship qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Saturday, despite a satisfying second half in which the team were very close to an equaliser. The strong Slovakians however, played an excellent first 45 minutes, in which they should have already taken a healthy lead, missing several clear chances. Despite this defeat, and with Kosovo beating Ukraine 4-0 in another match on Saturday, Malta is still within a possible qualification, should the scenario go all in favour of Malta on Tuesday.

Malta national Under-19 team coach Paul Gatt changed his starting formation on two places. Pieta’ Hotspurs defender Kaydon Catania and Mosta midfielder Ensell Attard were drafted in from the beginning, taking the places of Isaiah Chukunyere and Ethan Debono, with the former entering the fray in the second half.

Photo courtesy of James Galea/www.stephengatt.com

The Slovaks created two goalscoring opportunities early in the game through centre-forward Zoran Zahradnik. The first one arrived after just two minutes play, with Luca Camilleri saving his first attempt while the centre-forward hit the rebound wide. On 16 minutes, the same Zahradnik shot wide from an ideal angle with only Camilleri to beat. Four minutes later, Slovakian livewire Tadeas Hajovksy hit the woodwork with a shot from the edge of the box.

Malta somehow held back the continues Slovakian attacks in the opening phase, approaching cautious tactics with keeping five defenders in the backline throughout the opening half. However, on 36 minutes, Hoffenheim based Milan Rehus broke the deadlock in favour of the visitors from a splendid assist by Zahradnik, beating Camilleri with an accurate grounder. Moments later, Camilleri blocked a close-range attempt by Michael Svoboda, who plies his trade with Bologna in Italy, after an intelligent assist by Rehus.

Malta’s best opportunity in the first half arrived on 42 minutes with Zak Barbara finding Kian Vella on the left wing, whose on target attempt from the edge of the box was turned into a corner by Jakub Bladzgon, a splendid save by the Slovakian custodian.

The hosts started brightly after the break, not in the last place thanks to the entry of Kaiden Fenech and Basil Tuma. Malta managed to frustrate the Slovakians, who retreated into their own half, creating very few goalscoring opportunities during the first 30 minutes of the second half. The biggest chance for Malta arrived on 77 minutes with the Slovakian goalie failing to hold on to a Lucas Caruana bombshell, with Isaiah Chukunyere serving Barbara who incredibly missed from close-range.

This proved to be the turning point in the match as in the 80th minute, the guests doubled through substitute Alexej Maros, who rounded off a Jakub Murko pass from close-range, who did all the hard work on he right wing. It was game over in the attack that followed, with Zahradnik beating Camilleri for a third time with a similar goal as the second one.

Malta now need to beat Kosovo with a good number of goals while the Ukraine should lose to Slovakia in order for Malta to overtake the Ukrainians on goal-average and qualifying as best placed number three of all 13 qualifying round groups.

On Tuesday, Slovakia and Ukraine meet at 11:00 while Malta play Kosovo with a kick off time of 14:30, both at the Centenary Stadium.

Malta Luca Camilleri, Kian Vella (Trezeguet Zammit 63), Kaydon Catania (Isaiah Chukunyere 63), Sven Xerri, Ivin Farrugia, Myron Micallef, Ensell Attard (Basil Tuma 46), Lucas Caruana, Zak Barbara (Matthias Fenech 85), Kian Leonardi (Kaiden Fenech 46), Sean Gatt.

Slovakia Jakub Badzgon, Guliano-Antonio Marek, Daniel Prekop, Michal Svoboda, Adam Oravec, Filip Mielke, Tadeas Hajovsky (Maximilian Marko 87), Milan Rehus (David Bordac 17), Lubos Prazenka (Jakun Murko 71), Andy Masaryk (Alexej Maros 46), Zoran Zahradnik.

Referee Chrysovalantis Theouli (Cyprus)