Malta 0
Sweden 7


Horse Heese's national team made a disastrous start to their World Cup qualifying campaign last night after suffering a humiliating 7-0 defeat to Sweden at the National Stadium.

In the build-up to this match much was written and said about the attacking threat posed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrik Larsson and Fredrik Ljungberg. Those predictions were all proved correct as the deadly Swedish trio completely dismantled Malta's defensive fort with Juve's latest recruit Ibrahimovic scoring four goals, three of which in the opening 14 minutes.

The Maltese struggled for most of the match to control the fury of the Nordic forwards whose lightning attacking play simply exposed all the deficiencies in our defensive set-up.

Since taking over from Sigfried Held, Heese had opted to revert to a flat-four defensive system. That decision had raised a few eyebrows and on what we saw yesterday those pre-occupations were confirmed as the swift play of the Swedes created huge gaps in the Maltese defence to the delight of our classy opponents yesterday.

Heese kept faith with the same group of players who figured in last month's 3-2 defeat to the Faroe Islands in Toftir. The only exception was striker Andrew Cohen. He was replaced by Michael Galea.

Sweden, who also beat Malta by the same 7-0 scoreline in another World Cup qualifier way back in 1972 in Stockholm, were boosted by the full recovery of Ljungberg who shrugged off a slight knock and was included in the starting formation. He was deployed just behind attacking duo Larsson and Ibrahimovic.

Heese, in his pre-match comments, had warned his players to maintain their level of concentration high as a goal in the early stages of the match could open the way for a Swedish goal feast. His words were true prophecy.

In fact, Ibrahimovic took only four minutes to open his account. Christian Wilhelmsson charged his way past Brian Said, the ball fell to Ljungberg who intelligently released the unmarked Ibrahimovic. The latter simply tapped the ball home and that goal practically opened the floodgates for the visitors.

The Maltese barely had time to regroup themselves when Ibrahimovic struck again. The lanky forward this time beat the offside trap before chipping the ball over the onrushing Mario Muscat and inside an empty net.

It was 3-0 a few minutes later when Wilhelmsson's angled drive was partially blocked by Muscat but in came Ibrahimovic who had the easiest of tasks to roll the ball over the line.

Ibrahimovic was denied a poker three minutes later when again he beat Muscat from close in but this time the assistant referee waved for offside.

Malta first tested the Swedish goalkeeper on 19 minutes. However, Michael Mifsud's shot was easily dealt with by Isaksson.

Sweden were creating all sorts of problems to our rearguard. Midway through the first half, Ibrahimovic was again released by Lucic, dribbled past Muscat but this time Luke Dimech was on the right spot to avert danger with a timely tackle.

Up to this point, Ibrahimovic was decisively stealing the limelight from skipper Larsson. The Barcelona forward soon made his presence felt though and on 32 minutes he darted inside the Maltese penalty area only to see his effort palmed away by Muscat.

Antoine Zahra tested Isaksson with a curling shot that the Swedish goalkeeper did well to tip to corner.

Six minutes from the break Ljungberg almost increased his team's lead when he was freed by Tobias Linderoth but the Arsenal star player's lob skimmed the upright.

Malta's misery was further compounded barely 40 seconds into the second half when Wilhelmsson's pass caught the Malta defence napping and Ljungberg easily slid the ball past Muscat.

Sweden's swift attacking moves were posing huge problems to the Malta defence and on 55 minutes the upright came to our rescue from Larsson's thunderous drive.

On 65 minutes Malta were unlucky not to pull one back when Mifsud's drive, after he was put through by substitute Gilbert Agius, was deviated to a corner.

Ibrahimovic hit his fourth goal of the match on 71 minutes when cooly depositing the ball inside Muscat's net after substitute Mikael Nilsson had done all the approach work - 5-0.

Malta's defeat continued to take more humiliating proportions on 74 minutes when Ljungberg hit goal number six before Larsson made it 7-0 from a quickly-taken free-kick.

Larsson had the chance to score again when the referee ordered a penalty three minutes from time after Jonsson was tripped in the box. But from the spot ex-Celtic idol saw his shot saved by Muscat.

Aftermatch comments:

Sweden coach Lars Lagerback was obviously delighted with the outcome of last night's match at Ta' Qali.

"I'm happy with the points but we still did not expect it to be so easy for us," he said.

"From what we had seen we expected a better Malta team. They showed better qualities in previous matches but today we played a blinder... Malta had little chance. Their defensive line was slightly advanced and that really suited our play. Our strikers were swift to beat the offside and come face-to-face with the goalkeeper. Perhaps, that's why we scored so many goals.

"This victory was an ideal moral booster for our next match against Croatia."

Horst Heese was utterly dejected after the match.

"This was a disaster," he said. "Sweden were in a class of their own in all departments... we never stood a chance. The team played badly and the players committed several mistakes. You can't play like that against teams like Sweden, they punish you for every error you commit.

"The players tried hard though and should be commended for their fighting spirit. But I seriously need to discuss matters with Carmel Busuttil, my assistant, these coming days. Something has to be done even though we're limited in our selection process."

Malta: M. Muscat, R. Briffa, I. Azzopardi, P. Pullicino, B. Said, L. Dimech, I. Woods ('79 G. Mallia), S. Giglio, M. Mifsud, M. Galea, A. Zahra ('57 G. Agius).

Sweden: A. Isaksson, T. Lucic, O. Mellberg ('52 M. Nilsson), P. Hansson ('49 A. Ostlund), E. Edman, T. Linderoth, C. Wilhelmsson ('78 M. Jonsson), A. Svensson, F. Ljungberg, Z. Ibrahimovic, H. Larsson.

Referee: Haim Jakov (Israel FA).

Scorers: Ibrahimovic 4, 11, 14, 71; Ljungberg 46, 74; Larsson 76.

Yellow cards: Muscat, Mellberg.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us