Verbic goal lands Slovenia in second place
● 4th successive defeat for Malta
A goal by Benjamin Verbic in the 47th minute gave Slovenia an important win against Malta in their bid to qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia.
The three points landed them in second place on eight points, two adrift of leaders England and two ahead of third placed Slovakia.
It was also Malta’s fourth successive defeat in Group F, having earlier lost at home to Scotland and away to England and Lithuania.
For Malta, Michael Mifsud’s presence meant he was making his 122nd appearance for the national team, thus equalling the record of former Hibernians and Valletta defender David Carabott. Until he was substituted midway through the second half, his was an exemplary performance as he provided the Slovenian defence with some anxious moments down the right flank especially during the first half.
Ghedin also gave a debut to England-based defender Samuel Magri, promoted only recently from the Under 21 squad. Magri responded with an excellent performance which augurs well for his future with the national team.
As expected, Slovenia were a superior outfit and dominated the midfield sector allowing the Maltese only a few counter-attacks.
In the opening half, Malta had to suffer some sustained pressure from the visitors who apparently wanted an early goal.
They went close on a couple of occasions, but when Malta settled down, they also had their own good chances, especially that one which saw Schembri doing the impossible hitting over the bar with an open goal at his mercy.
In the second half, Slovenia quickly scored the goal they wanted.
It gave them that much needed confidence and they never allowed Malta to go close to scoring except, perhaps, on one occasion.
Despite some pressure on the Slovenian goal near the end of the match, the Maltese never really came close once again to scoring an equaliser. Slovenia went all out on attack in search of an early goal and penned Malta into their own half in the opening 20 minutes.
In fact, they went close to opening the score on the eighth minute when after a defensive lapse by Ryan Camilleri, it was Italian Serie A side Fiorentina’s Josip Ilicic who saw his grounder beating Hogg, but going inches wide of the left upright.
In the 12th minute, it was goalie Hogg who saved the day for Malta. In fact, he was a great protagonist saving three successive close range shots within a few seconds from Birsa, Novakovic and Verbic.
Malta’s first attack in the 23rd minute almost produced a goal. Schembri won a loose ball on the right flank and advanced to cross into the goalmouth where Luke Gambin ‘met’ the ball badly and concluded over the bar from five metres.
At the other end, it was debutant Samuel Magri who cleared in extremis before Birsa could conclude from an ideal position.
In the 28th minute, Slovenia threatened through a Verbic cross which saw Birsa a second too late to connect in front of Hogg.
In the 30th minute, Malta missed the best scoring chance. Mifsud advanced on the right flank and set Gambin.
The latter’s shot from the edge of the area was only partially saved by goalie Oblak, but Andre Schembri, all alone with an open goal, incredibly hit the ball over the bar.
In the 44th minute, it was again Ilicic who tried his luck for Slovenia, but his effort went wide.
As the second half started, Slovenia again went out on attack and early on, it was Novakovic who tested Hogg with a low shot which the Malta goalie saved in two attempts.
But Slovenia took the lead soon after, in the 47th minute. From a cross by Kurtic, it was Verbic who back heeled past Hogg.
In the 82nd minute, Malta had a half chance when in a fast counterattack, Andre Schembri had a shot from the edge of the area blocked by a Slovenian defender.
In the 90th minute, Hogg turned protagonist once again as he turned to corner a Sporar angled shot.
In the final minutes, Malta pressed for an equaliser, but the Slovenian defence kept our gallant boys at bay.
Malta captain Michael Mifsud (centre) making his 122nd appearance for Malta tries to evade the challenge of Slovenia's Dejan Trajkovski Photo: Domenic Aquilina