Ver­bic goal lands Slove­nia in sec­ond place

● 4th suc­ces­sive de­feat for Malta

Malta Independent - - SPORT - Henry Brin­cat

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

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