A Steve Borg goal deep into stoppage time handed Malta a dramatic 1-0 victory over Latvia in the UEFA Nations League in Riga on Tuesday.
It was a deserved victory for the national team, which ended a six-year wait for a competitive win away from our shores. The last victory in a competition was a 1-0 success in Armenia in a World Cup qualifier.
It was also the first time the team picked up the three points in the UEFA Nations League.
Added to that it was also the fourth successive positive result for the national team, the first time in 18 years. The players have also claimed their fourth straight clean sheet, something they last managed 20 years ago.
After Saturday’s disappointing goalless draw against Andorra in La Vella, Malta coach Devis Mangia had hinted that he expected a strong response from his players and they answered their coach’s call with an energetic display.
They dictated the run of play for most of the match with Teddy Teuma again playing a central role with an inspiring display. Aided by the continuous running of Luke Gambin and Joseph Mbong, the Maltese were on top for most of the match.
They created the better chances but struggled to take them and it looked as though the team would have to settle for a point.
However, deep into stoppage time, Borg leaped high to meet Steve Pisani’s delivery from a free-kick and head home the winner that lifted the team to their first-ever win in the competition but, more importantly, second place in the group on the five-point mark.
Mangia made two changes from the team, held to a goalless draw with Andorra.
Kurt Shaw was handed a recall in a three-man defence at the expense of Zach Muscat while Matthew Guillaumier was back in the side after serving a one-match ban. He flanked Teddy Teuma in the heart of the team engine room with Joseph Mbong and Ryan Camenzuli patrolling the flanks.
Upfront, Luke Montebello filled the central striking role at the expense of Jurgen Degabriele, who dropped to the bench with Luke Gambin and Paul Mbong supporting from the flanks.
The opening minutes were evenly balanced with Latvia going close after a minute of play when Andrejs Ciganiks’ cross fell into the path of Davis Ikaunieks who fired wide.
Malta soon responded and managed to force two successive corners with the first forcing goalkeeper Pavel Steinbors deflecting Guillaumier's delivery to a flag-kick, and from the second Montebello’s header finished just over.
In the 10th minute, Joseph Mbong hit a long-range shot that finished over.
Dictated the run of play
Malta played with authority in the opening minutes, dictating the run of play, with the Latvians adopting a patient approach and trying to hit the visitors with quick breaks.
On the 22nd minute, the Maltese defence endured a scare when a Ciganiks cross was deflected into the path of Arturs Zjuzins. But his firm drive was blocked by Andrei Agius.
Six minutes later, Teuma won possession some 30 metres out and hit a rasping drive that just missed the upright.
At the other end, Latvia had the best chance when Ikaunieks burst through but hit wide with only Bonello to beat.
The Malta goalkeeper affected his first save on the 33rd minute when he pushed away Savalnieks' drive.
Seven minutes from the break, Ikaunieks’ cross-shot was misjudged by Bonello with the ball brushing the bar before Oss fired wide.
After the break, Malta kept showing its attacking intent and on the 51st minute the team should have taken the lead. Teuma picked Ryan Camenzuli inside the area but the Floriana wingback saw his shot blocked by the onrushing Steinbors.
A minute later, Steve Borg was booked and will now miss the team’s next home match against Andorra in November.
Steinbors was again called in action on the 57th minute when he tipped over Gambin’s shot.
Twenty-two minutes from time, Mangia brought on Degabriele for Paul Mbong as he looked to inject fresh energies to his team’s forward line.
Bonello was then called to action twice to keep out efforts from Savalnieks and Uldrikis.
The teams kept going at each other but scoring chances remained few and far between.
But, in stoppage time, Malta won a free-kick and Pisani sent a fine cross towards Borg, who headed home to hand Malta its first competitive away win since 2013.
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