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Energetic Malta left to rue missed chances against Belarus in international friendly

Malta forward Kemar Reid (left) shoots at goal against Belarus. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

MALTA              0

BELARUS          0

Malta were left to rue a series of missed chances as the national team could only manage a goalless draw against Belarus in an international friendly at the National Stadium on Tuesday.

Although faced with the former Soviet Republic team who are ranked much higher than Michele Marcolini’s side, there was still optimism that Malta could secure another positive result, particularly after last week’s 2-2 draw against Euro 2024 participants Slovenia.

And the Malta players duly responded in some style with another encouraging attacking performance which saw them create a series of scoring chances and were unlucky not to yield the win, particularly when Kyrian Nwoko saw his header hit the upright in the first half.

Belarus were kept quiet for much of the match by the Malta defence even though they had one clear-cut opportunity early in the second half, one that Artem Shumanski headed over from point-blank range.

Although the final goalless stalemate will have left the Maltese players frustrated particularly given the amount of chances they created, there were still a lot of positives to take for the Malta coach.

In fact, during these two matches against Slovenia and Belarus, the national team have continued to show a lot of promise from a defensive point of view and more importantly when pushing forward despite having two key players Teddy Teuma and Jodi Jones missing.

No doubt the inclusion of Kemar Reid upfront is showing a lot of promise with his pace and power. The Floriana forward could play a key role for the national team in the future, particularly ahead of the UEFA Nations League which gets underway in September.

Malta’s Kyrian Nwoko shoots at goal against Belarus. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Malta coach made six changes to his starting formation as Enrico Pepe and Kurt Shaw replaced Steve Borg and Jean Borg respectively. Carlo Zammit Lonardelli was handed his first start as he was preferred to Juan Corbalan.

In midfield, Nikolai Muscat was preferred to Steve Pisani while upfront, Kemar Reid and Kyrian Nwoko started ahead of Luke Montebello and Paul Mbong.

Malta started brightly and after seven minutes of play, Belarus goalkeeper Sergei Ignatovich had to be alert to keep out Zammit Lonardelli’s deflected cross.

Three minutes later, Kemar Reid came close to scoring his first goal for the national team when he turned well past Pavel Zabelin and his low shot beat Ignatovich but the ball just missed the upright.

Five minutes later, Zach Muscat connected well with Guillaumier’s delivery from a free-kick but his volley flew straight into the hands of Ignatovich.

A minute later, the woodwork denied Malta from taking the lead as Nwoko latched to Zammit Lonardelli’s cross with the ball hitting the upright.

At the other end, Belarus threatened with a firm low shot by Evgeni Yablonski that just missed the far post.

Malta threatened again on 22 minutes when Nikolai Muscat hit a thumping drive from outside the area that was kept out by Ignatovich.

The home side continued to look very dynamic when pushing forward with Reid’s constant movement continuously creating havoc among the Belarus defence but still, they were yet to find the breakthrough.

In fact for the rest of the half, scoring chances were rare as the stalemate prevailed at the interval.

At the start of the second half, Marcolini made two changes as Rashed Al Tumi replaced goalkeeper Henry Bonello and Dunstan Vella took the place of Yannick Yankam.

Belarus came agonisingly close to taking the lead on 52 minutes when Kiril Pechenin’s cross found the unmarked Shumanski who incredibly headed over with only Al Tumi to beat.

Malta soon responded and on 64 minutes, Nevin Portelli teed up Muscat but his header went straight into the hands of Ignatovich.

In the closing stages, Malta started pushing further in search of a winner and 13 minutes from time, Brandon Paiber fed Dunstan Vella but his inswinger flashed wide off the mark.

Four minutes from time, Portelli broke through on the left and switched the ball to Muscat but the Malta defender miscued his shot with the ball easily blocked by Ignatovich.

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