Larsson 59 pen., 70 pen.
Agius 65 og.
Sweden remained firmly on course to reach Euro 2020 when they breezed past Malta in a one-sided encounter at the National Stadium.
The Swedes, seeking the three points to step up their bid for secure the runners-up spot in Group F, were always in command and their quest for victory was made the more easier when forging ahead after only ten minutes of play.
From then on, it was all in ascendancy for the Scandinavians as Malta found the going tough to come out of their half, bar for a short period late in the first half, as for the umpteenth time we struggled with our distribution of the ball as well as committing silly defensive mistakes that were severely punished by the visitors.
In the end, Sweden returned home with three useful points that kept them second in the group on 14 points ahead of Tuesday’s top-of-the-table clash with leaders Spain.
As for Malta, all focus will turn on Tuesday’s clash against the Faroe Islands, and surely one hopes the team lifts up their game if they are to gain a positive result in Torshavn that would keep the team above the bottom-placed Nordics ahead of the final round of matches.
Sliema defender Kurt Shaw, who was promoted to the senior squad for this double-header, was drafted straight into the starting formation as coach Farrugia opted not to risk Steve Borg, who is one booking away from suspension, from missing Tuesday’s crucial match against the Faroe Islands in Torshavn.
Alfred Effiong was given the nod to start upfront in the absence of Jean Paul Farrugia who was ruled out of the match with injury while Joseph Zerafa replaced Juan Corbalan on the right flank.
As expected, Sweden saw more of the ball in the opening minutes but they rarely managed to create any danger to Henry Bonello’s goal.
However, Malta’s struggles in set-pieces again resurfaced on 11 minutes when Sweden struck from their first corner.
Sebastian Larsson’s delivery picked the unmarked Marcus Danielson who stabbed the ball past Bonello.
Buoyed by that early opener the Swedes were happy to administer the game’s tempo as the Maltese were unable to create any source of reaction as their distribution of the ball left much to be desired.
Bonello was again called into action on 32 minutes when the Malta no. 1 had to be alert to push away Marcus Berg’s shot from the edge of the area.
Two minutes later, Gambin conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area when upending Berg on the edge of the area. Sebastian Larsson hit an inswinger that Bonello pushed away brilliantly.
The Swedes threatened again six minutes from the break through another free-kick, taken by Emil Forsberg, which Bonello blocked in two attempts.
Malta finally had a shot towards goal two minutes from the break when Mbong fed Gambin on the edge of the area and the Colchester midfielder’s shot was deflected just wide.
From the ensuing corner, Mbong and Gambin combined well on the right with the latter finding Nwoko whose shot hit a Swedish defender to end wide.
Then it was the turn of Rowen Muscat to shoot at goal but Robin Olsen was alert to block.
The second half kept the same script with the Scandinavians enjoying the bulk of possession with the hosts struggling to come out of their half.
On 51 minutes, Larsson hit a low drive that was pushed away by Bonello.
Shaw came to Malta’s rescue on 56 minutes when the young defender effected a providential block on Robin Quaison who was about to pull the trigger from close in.
But the Swedes were handed a second killer goal by Mbong who inexplicably pulled the shirt of Andreas Granqvist who looked to connect with Bengtsson’s corner and the referee pointed to the spot.
Larsson stepped up for the kick and sent Bonello the wrong way to all but seal the points for his team.
Malta did try to react on the hour when Effiong connected to Mbong’s cross but his shot finished just wide.
The game was as good as over on 65 minutes when Quaison’s cross was inadvertently deviated past Bonello by Andrei Agius to put the Swedes three goals up.
Paul Fenech, who had just replaced Rowen Muscat, almost pulled a goal back but his long-range drive flashed past the upright with Olsen beaten.
There were more woes in store for Malta when on 70 minutes, substitute Jonathan Caruana floored Quaison inside the area and Larsson again made no mistake from the spot.
Five minutes later, Forsberg should have made it 5-0 but incredibly fired wide with only Bonello to beat while two minutes later the Malta goalkeeper did well to push away Alexander Isak’s shot as the visitors cruised home.