MALTA          0



H. Bonello, J. Caruana (87 J. Grioli), J. Zerafa, A. Agius, C. Failla (81 R. Camilleri), P. Fenech (86 R. Scicluna), R. Muscat, A. Schembri (84 M. Mifsud), B. Kristensen (52 G. Sciberras), A. Effiong, Z. Muscat (55 S. Borg).


Ar. Gaiduchevici, I. Armas, A. Cascaval, A. Epureanu (46 P. Racu), V. Bordian, A. Ionita, A. Cojocari, A. Gatcan, A. Antoniuc (72 M. Mihailov) E. Sidorenco (63 A. Dedov), V. Cemirtan (78 R. Ginsari).

Referee R. Tarajev (Estonia).

Yellow cards Effiong; Gatcan; Cojocari; Cascaval.

Malta's commitments for 2016 got off to a low-key start after the national team figured in a goalless draw against Moldova in a friendly.

Scoring chances were few and far between in a drab encounter with the Maltese team, set out in a 5-3-2 formation, struggling to produce attacks as they kept giving the ball away in midfield while striker Alfred Effiong was tightly marked.

Malta did better in defence and the clean sheet will have pleased coach Pietro Ghedin.

Goalkeeper Henry Bonello, making his second start for Malta, had a good game while, in front of him, Andrei Agius produced a typically strong display, always alert to the danger besides making a goal-line clearance in the second half.

But, Malta's tendency to throw away possession, especially when put under pressure by Moldova, meant that the hosts were unable to build any momentum.

Bonello's positive form for Valletta didn't go unnoticed by Ghedin as the towering goalkeeper earned a starting role.

The battle for the third centre-half spot was won by Akragas defender Zach Muscat who partnered the more experienced Jonathan Caruana, of Valletta, and  Hibs' Andrei Agius as Steve Borg, now with Aris Limassol, and Valletta's Ryan Camilleri began on the bench.

The two wide roles were occupied by Hibs left-back Clayton Failla and Joseph Zerafa, of Birkirkara while in midfield, Hibs' stalwart Bjorn Kristensen flanked Balzan's Paul Fenech and Rowen Muscat, who plays for AC Pavia.

Omonia Nicosia playmaker Andrè Schembri, handed the captain's armband, started behind lone striker Alfred Effiong, of Balzan.

Artur Ionita, who turns out for Serie A strugglers Verona, assumed roaming duties behind striker Vadim Cemirtan in Moldova's 4-2-3-1 formation.

Four minutes into the game, Agius was first to Clayton Failla's corner but his flick was wide.

Malta looked to have a legitimate claim for a penalty when Adrian Cascaval appeared to push Effiong in the box but referee Roomer Tarayev had a different view. Amid the ensuing scramble, Malta were awarded a free-kick just outside the box with Failla touching the ball to Fenech whose curling drive brought a fine save from Moldova goalkeeper Artiom Gaiduchevici.

Both teams were short of fluency in the early stages.

Moldova's Alexandru Antoniuc headed wide from Eugeniu Sidorenco's cross on 20 minutes.

While Malta were hardly troubled beyond routine work by the erstwhile low-key Moldova, they found it hard to make some sort of impact up front as Schembri and Effiong were too isolated.

Moldova began to exert some control on the proceedings but the game remained largely dull.

A clash between Effiong and Alexandru Gatcan after the latter had fouled the Malta striker lifted the boredom. The two players were booked.

Ionita as wide with a free-kick seven minutes from half-time.

The second half started on a quiet note. A neat turn by Schembri enabled him to peel away from his marker but his pass towards Effiong was intercepted.

There was a great chance for Moldova nine minutes into the second half. Bonello dashed out of goal to try and clear but, amid the resultant scramble, Eugeniu Sidorenko created space for a shot but his goalbound effort was headed off the line by Agius.

At the other end, Failla's outswinging cross sailed towards the far post but Schembri's weak header posed no problems to the Moldova defenders.

When Steve Borg, who had just come on for Zach Muscat, gave away possession on the right, danger loomed for Malta as Alexandru Antoniuc drifted into the box but his drive was parried away by Bonello.

Subdued in attack for most of the game, Malta finally managed to create a flowing move as Schembri advanced on the right before delivering a centre that was missed by Effiong but in came Fenech who skied his shot high and wide.

The match remained balanced but uneventful. A quick Moldova attack opened up the Maltese defence as Alexandru Dedov cut in from them left and squared to Gatcan but the Rostov midfielder's drive was blocked by Borg.

Bonello then blocked another effort from Gatcan.

With nine minutes remaining, the home team broke on the counter with Schembri releasing Gareth Sciberras, on for Kristensen in the second half, but the Birkirkara captain's shot was repelled by a defender.

Mifsud came for Schembri six minutes from time as Ghedin tried to add some impetus to his attack.

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