Second half goals sink Malta in Michael Mifsud’s record 123rd appearance
Two second half goals gave Iceland their 11th win in 15 encounters against Malta yesterday evening.
Arnor Ingvi Traustason in the opening minute of the second half and Sverrir Ingason on the 75th minute were Iceland’s scorers in an entertaining game played before a crowd of less than 1,000.
Despite making several changes to their normal selection, Iceland were still a slightly superior outfit, but I must say that Malta deserved a better result having created so much during the 90 minutes.
But our boys can never hope of obtaining a victory if they continue failing to take the opportunities which come their way – at least some – as was the case yesterday.
For Malta, Michael Mifsud did not start, so he had to wait till the 54th minute before establishing a new appearance record - 123.Congratulations on this new achievement Michael. Alfred Effiong of Balzan was back leading the attack, but it was he who had to sacrifice his place for Mifsud.
Also returning to the fold after missing the first four World Cup qualifiers against Scotland, England, Lithuania and Slovenia was Hibs flank defender Clayton Failla, who took the place of Ryan Camilleri.
On their part, Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson made 10 changes to the side that lost 2-0 to Croatia in the past weekend’s qualifier. Only defender Birkir Saevarsson was starting the match yesterday. It was therefore more an experimental side in view of their future commitments.
The match was entertaining with both sides offering some good football despite the absences, especially in the Iceland side.
The Maltese were an organised outfit, especially at the back where Sam Magri, in only his second match, again confirmed his great potential.
Another star in the making – although we knew about this one several months ago – was England-based midfielder Luke Gambin. He was to be seen everywhere and never stopped running, dribbling opponents with great confidence, distributing the ball intelligently and also having a good pot at goal on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately captain Andre Schembri had another quiet match and he also missed another sitter, confirming that his nightmare with the national team is ongoing. I was not surprised he did not last the 90 minutes.
The match started under a real deluge with a heavy shower greeting the two teams on the pitch for the two national anthems.
Malta had the first attempt at goal in the ninth minute when after a Gambin fine solo move, the ball was blocked into Failla’s path, but the latter’s shot went wide.
Iceland replied in the 18th minute with a shot from the edge of the area by Kjartansson which went over the bar.
A minute later, Andre Schembri missed a good chance for Malta when he was set in the area, but he dallied before either shooting or passing to an unmarked teammate and then Luke Gambin’s effort from the edge of the area was blocked by an Iceland defender.
Immediately afterwards, at the other end, it was Steve Borg who saved an awkward situation for Malta as he blocked a very dangerous incursion by Traustason.
In the 23rd minute, Malta appealed in vain for a penalty when Schembri set Effiong beautifully in the Iceland area, but after rounding a defender, he fell on the grass claiming that he had been pulled, but the Irish official, close to the action, waved play on.
In the 34th minute, it was goalie Hogg who performed a miracle in goal as he turned to corner in style a close range header from Omarsson.
In the 41st minute, the nippy Gambin – one of Malta’s best players- was again involved in a mazy dribble inside the Iceland area, but his final shot unfortunately went wide.
Soon after the second half started, Iceland took the lead. A low shot by Traustason hit the upright, rebounded out and hit Hogg’s back before ending at the back of the net.
In the 57th minute, Malta went close with a long distance effort by Sciberras, but the ball just missed the target.
In the 63rd minute a good move between Schembri and Mifsud ended with the latter firing wide from the angle.
In the 69th minute, substitute Ryan Camenzuli tried his luck following a cornerkick, but his left footer went wide.
As Malta insisted on attack, another good shot arrived on 73 minutes. This time it was Gambin who saw his effort going just over.
Two minutes later, the goal arrived, but at the other end. From a Johann Gudmundsson cornerkick, Sverrir Ingason rose above friend and foe to head past a beaten Hogg.
In the 82nd minute, from a Ryan Camenzuli freekick, Sam Magri headed over the bar from an ideal position.
The moment everyone was expecting! Michael Mifsud (centre) makes his 123rd record appearance for Malta. Photo - Domenic Aquilina
Ingasson heading home Iceland’s second goal Photo - Dominic Aquilina