Willis 59; Farrugia 73
J. Xuereb; A. Said, E. Lipman, S. Farrugia, R. Cuschieri, A. Sultana (46 M. Farrugia), K. Willis, B. Borg, E. Xuereb, N. Sciberras (77 S. Zammit), H. Bugeja.
E. Vaivode; A. Flakse (74 D. Suvitra), P. Lininja, V. Zaicikova, A. Poluhovica, A. Rocane, S. Voltane, O. Sevcova, A. Gornela, A. Valaka, K. Miksone.
Referee Rita Vehapi (Kosovo FA).
Yellow cards Zaicikova, Miksone, Valaka.
A second-half comeback propelled Malta to an historic promotion after defeating Latvia in their final UEFA Women’s Nations League encounter.
Buoyed by an attendance record for a Malta women’s team game of 1,008 people (previous record was 764), the home side had to come from behind after Latvia had struck first from the penalty spot.
In the build-up to this game, coach Manuela Tesse had urged her players to show maturity and make sure they capitalise on this moment.
Her message was vividly clear in the second half with Malta staging up a commanding reaction to Latvia’s goal and go on and clinch the automatic promotion spot.
As a result, Malta will be now among the best 32-ranked European teams come the upcoming Women’s Euro 2025 qualifications in which the Maltese side will feature in the 16-team League B, with the teams divided equally across four groups.
After the Moldova draw, Tesse made two changes for this decisive game with Alishia Sultana replacing Maria Farrugia on the right wing while Kailey Willis become Malta’s reference point in the number nine role instead of Ylenia Carabott.
Malta’s target player Willis warmed up the local crowd with a long-range strike that flew inches wide, inside the opening 15 minutes.
Moments later, Brenda Borg followed with an effort from inside the area but was not enough to beat Latvia’s goalkeeper.
The Baltic side, on their part, were trying to threaten Malta with set-pieces but nothing serious came towards Janice Xuereb before Malta came close to forge ahead with a delightful overhead kick by Willis.
Latvia’s first noteworthy chance was recorded on the half-hour mark when they pounced on a Borg mistake before Karlina Miksone fired a low strike that went wide from Xuereb’s goal.
At half-time, Malta coach Tesse tried to bolster the attacking department with the introduction of England-based Maria Farrugia, replacing Birkirkara’s Sultana.
However, it was Latvia that drew first blood from the penalty spot. Kosovo’s match official Rita Vehapi awarded a penalty to the Baltic side after, according to her, Stephania Farrugia handled the ball inside the area.
From the resultant penalty, Miksone slotted past Xuereb as Malta’s run of five straight games with a clean sheet came to an end.
Nonetheless, Malta’s reaction came swiftly with Rachel Cuschieri teeing up Willis who struck home with a towering header to net her third international goal on her eighth cap.
The equaliser fired up the Maltese who became more aggressive in their offensive drives, coming close to find a second as well through a Bugeja low drive.
Malta did make their pressure count to find a second goal.
Cuschieri played a neat through ball towards Farrugia before the latter dribbled past her marker and converted into goal with a curling effort.
For the former Sunderland winger, this was her seventh goal for Malta as she was making her 38th international appearance.
In the closing stages of the game, Malta looked in control of the game despite the Latvians trying to stage a late rally.
But the Baltic side could not find their much-needed leveller as the home side managed to write an unprecedented chapter in the history of Maltese football.
Other result: Andorra 0-0 Moldova.
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