FAROE ISLANDS 1
A second-half goal by Rogvi Baldvinsson dented Malta’s realistic aspirations of at least avoiding bottom spot in Group F as the Maltese team left the Torsvollur Stadium empty-handed, last night.
Heading into this game, the Maltese were looking to go all out for a win and the early stages of the game had indicated exactly that.
However, Malta’s possession was not productive enough to test the Faroe Islands defence.
On the other hand, the hosts were more pragmatic in their style and were rewarded with a win that sees them leapfrog Malta at second bottom in Group F.
It was a disappointing performance that led to a narrow defeat as now Malta have lost eight successive qualifiers, failing to score in each of them, since beating the same Faroes last March.
As expected, Malta coach Ray Farrugia made several changes from the starting line-up that faced Sweden, last Saturday.
Michael Mifsud was handed the captain’s armband on his return to starting formation, playing behind target man Kyrian Nwoko with Alfred Effiong dropped to the bench.
Meanwhile, Paul Fenech partnered Dunstan Vella and Rowen Muscat in the midfield replacing Luke Gambin while Steve Borg formed the central defensive pair next to Andrei Agius with Joseph Mbong shifting to the left flank instead of Joseph Zerafa.
The Faroe Islands, on their part, also utilised players who were absent from their match against Romania, including star forward Joan Edmundsson who plays at Arminia Bielefeld in Germany.
Both Brandur Hendriksson and Rogvi Baldvinsson were given the nod as well despite being tipped as doubtful in the build-up to the game.
From the start, Malta made their intentions clear in what has been a pulsating opening to the game. The Reds played the ball vertically seeking space between the Faroese defensive line and after two minutes, Jake Grech had knocked on the opponents’ door first when he received from Rowen Muscat but he skied his effort.
A couple of minutes later, Zach Muscat was at the end of a Joseph Mbong cross but his close-range effort was wide.
As time went by, the Faroese started to inch their way up the field and were putting the Maltese defence under pressure with their crosses and set-pieces.
Malta, on their part, were now trying to catch their opponents on the break with Nwoko offering a massive helping hand with his hold-up play.
On 22 minutes, Lars Olsen’s side came closest to forge ahead through an unmarked Hallur Hansson header who headed just wide.
The hosts continued to test the Malta defenders with their incursions inside the final third but on 28 minutes it was the Maltese whose positive transition saw Nwoko attempt to force Gunnar Nielsen into action but his effort was weak as the ball rolled out into goal kick.
Moments later, Grech received the ball on the edge of the area but saw his strike saved by Nielsen.
In the closing stages of the first 45 minutes, the teams were stretched providing the attendants an end-to-end finale with both sides trying to capitalise on their breaks.
Yet, neither side was successful as they entered the dressing room locked in a goalless stalemate.
Olsen’s clan dominated proceedings as the second half kicked off and their first chance came in the 55th minute when Baldvinsson was at the end of a second ball but his outcome was far from successful.
The biggest opportunity at this point dropped on Viljomur Davidson who almost capitalised on a right-hand side cross but Henry Bonello came to Malta’s rescue with a one-handed save to preserve Malta’s clean sheet.
In the 69th minute, Grech attempted his luck from distance but he missed the target completely.
A minute later, Farrugia was preparing to field offensive duo Effiong and Gambin but did not make it in time to prevent his side from going one goal down.
It was Baldvinsson whose towering header slotted past an indecisive Bonello to the delight of the home fans.
Malta’s reaction arrived swiftly after as Nwoko tried a curling effort just to be denied by inches.
As the half wore on, Farrugia shifted Mbong into a more central role while Agius was now featuring as a striker in order to provide a physical presence inside the eighteen-yard area.
With Malta looking to rescue a point, it was the Faroes who almost doubled the score with Bonello having to deny both Klaemint Olsen and Hansson.
But in the end, Malta’s pressure failed to reap the desired dividends as it was the hosts who celebrated their first win in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.