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EURO 2024 qualifiers

Watch: North Macedonia quick double floors plucky Malta in Euro qualifying opener

Eljif Elmas (right) races past Alex Satariano. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

N. MACEDONIA      2

Elmas 65

Churlinov 71

MALTA                     1

Yankam 85

N. MACEDONIA S. Dimitrievski, V. Musliu, E. Elmas, E. Alioski (78 S. Ashkovski), A. Trajkovski (57 I. Nestorovski), E. Bardhi, S. Ristovski, D. Velkovski (57 D. Churlinov), G. Zajkov (90 K. Ristevski), B. Miovski (78 M. Ristovski), J. Atanasov.

MALTA: H. Bonello, C. Attard, S. Borg, F. Apap, R. Camenzuli (77 J. Corbolan), B. Kristensen (77 Y. Yankam), M. Guillaumier, J. Mbong, P. Mbong (67 S. Dimech), T. Teuma (84 B. Paiber), A. Satariano (84 J. Jones).

Referee Kristo Tohver (Estonia FA).

Yellow cards Kristensen, Bardhi, Alioski, Teuma, Borg, Attard, Nesterovski.

Malta produced a gutsy display but still suffered a 2-1 defeat away to North Macedonia in their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign opener on Thursday.

In Michele Marcolini’s debut as Malta national teams’ head coach, Malta conceded two goals in quick succession but visitors kept fighting and were rewarded with a late Yannick Yankam goal.

But they still could not avoid defeat as the North Macedonians held on for the win.

In spite of this, there were still a lot of positives to take for Marcolini as the Maltese side showed great defensive organisation for long stretches of the match and could have hurt the home side with their quick transition play had they been sharper in their final ball.

Now the attention will switch to Sunday’s tough match against European champions Italy where the Maltese players need to show their fighting qualities against much stronger opponents.

Marcolini named an attacking 3-4-1-2 formation, starting with a back three of Cain Attard, Steve Borg and Ferdinando Apap.

At the opposite end, the Italian coach pushed Royal Union St. Gilloise midfielder Teddy Teuma further upwards as the team’s attacking midfielder behind a two-man strike force of Alexander Satariano and Paul Mbong.

It was no surprise that opposing coach Blagoja Milevski based his starting 11 on stars Eljif Elmas and Aleksandar Trajkovski as the home side started with a more conservative 4-2-3-1.

It was Malta who showed promise in the opening stages with Marcolini’s clan holding most of possession and Teuma having the first opportunity of the encounter after three minutes but his effort went wide off the mark.

North Macedonia took 14 minutes to respond with their first attempt coming from an Elmas corner, met by Darko Velkovski’s header which went over the bar.

As halftime drew closer, North Macedonia became the more dominant side but had no significant effort to show for it as Malta’s defence stood strong to keep out any crosses into the area.

At the other end, Matthew Guillaumier had the best chance of the half for Malta right before the break when a long ball found Paul Mbong, who led the ball to Guillaumier but the Malta midfielder took too long to fire in at goal and his shot was blocked.

After the break, North Macedonia remained the stronger side and on 58 minutes, they thought they were given a lifeline after a lacklustre showing so far when Elmas fired at goal forcing Henry Bonello into a diving save and Bojan Miovski fell to the ground when pressured by Ryan Camenzuli. Initially, referee Kristo Tovher pointed to the spot but retracted the call after checking the video assistant referee (VAR).

However, the home side made no mistake on 65 minutes when, keeping possession along the Malta box, the ball fell to Elmas who hit low past Bonello into the bottom corner.

North Macedonia made it two on 71 minutes when Bardhi found Darko Churlinov unmarked and despite the tight angle, the newly brought-on player managed to twist the ball past Bonello.

Marcolini’s clan tried to stage a reaction but the North Macedonians had complete control at this point. However, the Maltese finally found a way in four minutes from time when a Shaun Dimech cross was met by Joseph Mbong and even though his shot was blocked, Yannick Yankam found his first international goal with the rebound.

North Macedonia had one last chance with a freekick in the last minute of regular time but Bardhi’s shot slammed the upright with Malta going on the counterattack.

Jodi Jones raced clear but his pass towards Shaun Dimech was a bit too long and the North Macedonians cleared.

In the end, North Macedonia held on however, taking the three points as Malta head home to prepare for the second part of their double-header, this time at home to Italy on Sunday.

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