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EURO 2024 qualifiers

Watch: Gallant Malta players answer critics with vibrant display in Ukraine defeat

Malta's Joseph Mbong pushes forward against Ukraine. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

MALTA            1

P. Mbong 12

UKRAINE         3

Camenzuli 38og

Dovbyk 43 pen.

Mudryk 86

MALTA

H. Bonello, R. Camenzuli, S. Borg, M. Guillaumier, J. Mbong (78 C. Attard), P. Mbong (86 L. Montebello), E. Pepe, K. Nwoko (68 A. Satariano), N. Muscat (66 B. Kristensen), Y. Yankam (86 S. Pisani), J. Borg.

UKRAINE

Ai. Trubin, S. Sydorchuk, G. Sudakov (66 Y. Nazaryna), M. Mudryk, A. Dovbyk, I. Zabarnyi, V. Mykolenko, O. Zinchenko (86 O. Pikhalonok), V. Vanat (66 Y. Konoplia), O. Karavalev (75 O. Zubkov), M. Matviyenko (46 O. Svatok).

Referee Morten Krogh (Denmark).

Yellow cards Matviyenko, Pisani, Zubkov.

The Malta national team players experienced at first-hand last night how harsh football can be after they produced their best performance in the Euro 2024 qualifiers but still suffered a harsh 3-1 defeat to Ukraine at the National Stadium.

Coming into the match on the back of a disappointing performance in a 4-0 thumping to Italy at the San Nicola Stadium in Bari, few had predicted that the Maltese players could go toe to toe with a Ukrainian team who are fighting for a place in next year’s European Championship finals.

But the home side produced the right response to the barrage of criticism received in the aftermath of the Italy match with a sound attacking performance that left the few thousands of Maltese fans dreaming of an upset.

In fact, the Maltese came out of the blocks like a team on a mission and their adventurous approach was rewarded with a fine opener from Paul Mbong.

The Ukrainians looked stunned and despite their efforts to claw themselves into the match they were thwarted by the home side who produced a hard-working display that saw them close all avenues to their opponents.

Luck deserted the Maltese just before the break when they suffered two quick goals in the space of three minutes, the first from a very unfortunate own goal from Ryan Camenzuli.

But that double setback failed to dishearten the Maltese players who continued to push forward for an equaliser and were unlucky not to grab an equaliser with Matthew Guillaumier denied by the upright.

It had to be a moment of magic from Chelsea’s star Mykhailo Mudryk that sealed the points to the Ukrainians who moved into second place in the group after Italy’s defeat to England at Wembley Stadium.

However, the Maltese players still left the field with their heads held high, and no doubt they certainly gave fresh hope to the Maltese fans that this team are capable of continuing to grow in their performances with a view of securing an historic promotion in the Nations League next year.

Marcolini made four changes to the team that slumped to a 4-0 defeat to Italy in Bari.

Skipper Steve Borg was back in the fray after returning from suspension and replaced Ferdinando Apap while Jean Borg started ahead of Zach Muscat.

In midfield, Nikolai Muscat was preferred to Bjorn Kristensen while upfront Kyrian Nwoko started ahead of Luke Montebello.

Ukraine coach Serhiy Rebrov named Chelsea start Mykhailo Mudryk in his starting XI but midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi missed out due to a one-match ban.

Malta started brightly and after less than a minute of play, Kyrian Nwoko fed Joseph Mbong whose shot was deflected into the hands of goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin.

On six minutes, Joseph Mbong showed great brilliance to move past two defenders before sending a low cross that was cleared by the Ukrainian defence.

Malta were giving promising signs in the opening minutes as they seemed to answer Marcolini’s call to be more aggressive and attacking-minded.

In fact, it was the hosts who took the lead and what a goal it was. Matthew Guillaumier fed Paul Mbong who exchanged the ball with Kyrian Nwoko. The Birkirkara attacking midfielder sped through the Ukraine defence and hit a low drive that slid beneath Trubin and into the net.

The Ukrainians tried to hit back but for all their long spells of possession, they could find a way through as the Maltese defenders were defending staunchly.

Malta conceded an equaliser seven minutes from the break in the most unlucky circumstances when Sudakov’s low shot seemed to be drifting just wide but Ryan Camenzuli, in an attempt to clear the ball, slipped and deviated the ball into the back of the net.

The goal hit hard the hosts who conceded a second three minutes later when Mudryk was upended inside the area by Mbong.

Dovbyk’s shot from the spot was almost saved by Bonello but the ball passed underneath the body of the Ħamrun Spartans goalkeeper.

On the stroke of half-time, the woodwork denied Malta an equaliser when Joseph Mbong fed Guillaumier on the edge of the area and his first-time shot smacked against the bar.

Just before the half-time whistle, Bonello charged out of his goal to intercept a throughball towards his area, the ball fell to Mudryk who hit first time but was denied by the Malta goalkeeper.

The Maltese continued where they left off in the first half and on 47 minutes Yankam fed Paul Mbong who turned past his marker but his shot was blocked by Trubin.

The Maltese kept up their tempo in the second half and came close again on the hour mark when Guillaumier fed Nwoko who created space for himself on the edge of the area and his firm drive was pushed away by Trubin.

The home side continued to push forward and on 64 minutes Mbong raced through the Ukrainians’ defence but his shot was blocked by a defender.

Just past the hour, Marcolini withdrew Nwoko and Muscat and roped in Alex Satariano and Bjorn Kristensen in bid to add more energy to his team’s engine room.

Twenty minutes from time, Bonello kept the Maltese in the match with a fine save on Mudryk.

Ukraine finally put the seal on the three points five minutes from time with a moment of magic from the Chelsea forward.

Mudryk embarked on a mazy run and let fly a thumping drive that gave no chance to Bonello to wrap up the win.

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