Pepe 7og; Kane 75
J. Pickford, K. Trippier, H. Maguire, E. Guehi, F. Tomori (46 B. Saka), T. Alexander-Arnold, C. Gallagher (46 K. Walker), J. Henderson (61 D. Rice), P. Foden, H. Kane, M. Rashford (61 C. Palmer).
H. Bonello, J. Borg, E. Pepe, S. Borg, R. Camenzuli, J. Mbong (85 C. Attard), T. Teuma, M. Guillaumier (59 B. Kristensen), Y. Yankam, K. Reid, P. Mbong (59 J. Jones).
Referee: Luis Godinho (Portugal FA).
Yellow cards P. Mbong, Tomori, Kane, Guillaumier.
The Malta national team produced a hard-working but still was not enough to avoid a 2-0 defeat agianst England in their final Euro 2024 qualifier at Wembley Stadium.
The result saw Malta end the campaign without a point after an eighth successive defeat but there were many positives to take from the team’s display.
The prospect of facing the Group C leaders on their home turf looked daunting for the national team but the Maltese players still left the English capital with their pride intact after a combative display that frustrated the home side for much of the opening 75 minutes.
In fact, the Maltese produced another bright display as they worked their socks off to thwart their superior opponents with a high-pressing game and were unlucky to find themselves behind after seven minutes after an unfortunate own goal from Enrico Pepe.
But this setback failed to derail the national team who continued to play positive football and had their opportunities to draw level but more impressively managed to diffuse England’s attacking threat, so much so that the hosts failed to have a shot on target after their opening goal.
England did manage to add a second through the prolific Kane late on but no doubt last night’s performance was another positive step in the right direction for Marcolini that bodes well for the team’s ambition of winning promotion in the UEFA Nations League next year.
Marcolini handed a debut to striker Kemar Reid. The 29-year-old forward, who was included in Malta’s final 24-man squad for the Euro 2024 qualifier after receiving a Maltese passport late last month, was one of two changes made from the team that lost 2-1 to Ukraine at the National Stadium last month.
Reid was given the nod to start ahead of fellow club team-mate at Floriana, Kyrian Nwoko who had to settle with a place on the bench.
Teddy Teuma, Malta’s star midfielder, was back in the starting XI at the expense of Nikolai Muscat.
England-based forward Jodi Jones started on the bench after he returned to the fray after missing last month’s World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.
On his part, England manager Gareth Southgate fielded a fearsome strikeforce as skipper Harry Kane was supported by Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford.
Southgate brought in some fringe players in his starting formation as Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi replaced the injured John Stones at the heart of defence while Fikayo Tomori was back in the starting formation.
Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher was also given the nod to start in midfield.
Malta were almost off to a dream start as after only 30 seconds of play Matthew Guillaumier dispossessed Gallagher and finds Teuma who hit a firm low drive that skimmed past the upright with Pickford beaten.
Luck did not favour the national team when they found themselves a goal behind in unfortunate circumstances.
Phil Foden burst inside the area and his cutback was inadvertently deflected by Pepe past Bonello to hand England the lead.
Despite this setback, the Maltese tried to fight back and two minutes later, Guillaumier intercepted Maguire’s poor pass and fed Paul Mbong who hit a thumping drive that finished over.
England, as expected were seeing more of the ball, but were finding it tough to find to break down an organised Maltese rearguard as the visitors, inspired by the hardworking Guillaumier, were making good use of the ball when in possession and always trying to break forward.
On 27 minutes Bonello sent a poor pass on the edge of that was intercepted by Foden who fed Kane and the Bayern striker fell under the challenge of the Malta goalkeeper.
However, Portuguese referee Luis Godinho booked the England captain for simulation.
England continued to struggle to create chances, with Trent Alexander-Arnold firing well over on 38 minutes, their only opportunity until the half-time interval.
Southgate was clearly unhappy with his team’s performance and on the restart, he roped in Kyle Walker and Bukayo Saka in lieu of Fikayo Tomori and Gallagher as he looked to add more speed to his team’s attacking moves.
Walker was soon called into action in his own penalty box when he providentially intercepted Paul Mbong’s dangerous cross after 47 minutes.
On the stroke of the hour mark, Marcolini effected a double change as he surprisingly withdrew the excellent Guillaumier for Bjorn Kristensen while Jones came on for Paul Mbong.
Southgate on his part withdrew Rashford and roped Cole Palmer while Henderson was replaced by Declan Rice.
The home side finally threatened on 66 minutes when they won a central free-kick but Alexander-Arnold’s shot finished well over.
England wrapped up the points on 73 minutes with a well-worked move between Walker, Foden, and Saka who set up Kane and the Bayern striker fired home.
The home side had the ball in the Malta net again a minute later when Rice stormed forward and hit a rasping drive that gave no chance to Bonello.
However, the ‘goal’ was annulled after the VAR showed Kane was in an offside position.
Eight minutes from time, Malta came close Joseph Mbong found Yankam who fired wide.
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