Early goals pave way for comfortable Greece victory

11.06.2024, Das Goldberg Stadion, Grödig, Austria

(HT 2-0)

 1-0 Bakasetas, pen, 7, 2-0 Tzolis 15.

Two quick goals set the stage for a 2-0 triumph for Greece, our Mediterranean counterparts, in a subdued Friendly match in Austria to conclude the season.

It was crucial for our national team to regain some dignity following the disappointing 7-1 defeat against a formidable Czech Republic squad just last Friday. While the Greeks controlled the game, Malta displayed solid defensive organization and managed to create a few chances to score, particularly in the second half as the match grew more cautious towards the end.

In comparison to the game last Friday, Malta coach Michele Marcolini made several changes to his starting lineup. Only Ryan Camenzuli, Jean Borg, Matthew Guillaumier, Teddy Teuma, and Paul Mbong retained their positions, while Sliema Wanderers goalkeeper Rashed Al-Tumi made his debut. Jurgen Degabriele returned to the team after more than eight months, with his last appearance for the Hibernians striker being in the home friendly against Gibraltar in September. Guillaumier had the honour of wearing the captain’s armband for the seventh time in his career. The most experienced player in the starting eleven was centre-back Zach Muscat, who played his 67th international match for Malta. Additionally, Luke Tabone had his first opportunity for Malta as a substitute for Jean Borg towards the end of the game.

The Greeks, who suffered a defeat against Georgia in the Euro 2024 Play-Off Final in March after a penalty shootout, began the match with three players from Olympiakos, who emerged as champions of the UEFA Europa Conference League last month. Vangelis Pavlidis, one of the leading scorers in the Dutch EreDivisie, started as the striker.

The game started similarly to the previous one against the Czechs, with Malta conceding a penalty early on. In the seventh minute, Al-Tumi made contact with Pavlidis in the penalty area, and fortunately, Pavlidis capitalized on the slight touch, prompting the Austrian referee to point to the spot. Captain Tasos Bakasetas took the penalty kick, which wasn’t the best one but still had enough power to beat Al-Tumi. The nightmare beginning for Malta continued as Greece doubled their lead in the 15th minute. Teuma mishandled the ball just outside the box after a pass from Nikolai Muscat, allowing Pavlidis to assist Christos Tzolis, who scored a brilliant goal into the top corner.

Malta’s first opportunity came just after the half-hour mark. Dimitris Kourbelis lost possession halfway inside his own half to Teuma, who passed to Paul Mbong. Mbong’s shot was saved by debutant goalkeeper Kostas Tsolakis, who turned it into a corner before Teuma could arrive for a potential rebound.

The Reds managed to find their rhythm in the latter part of the first half and also had their first opportunity after the break. In the 56th minute, Corbalan passed to Nikolai Muscat, whose shot from outside the box missed the target. Greece posed a threat, but their final passes and touches were sloppy, allowing Malta to launch some impressive attacks. However, Greece continued to push for a third goal. In the 60th minute, penalty scorer Bakasetas missed from close range, and ten minutes later, Tzolis blasted a shot high from a similar angle. Shortly after, Al-Tumi did well to save another attempt from Bakasetas, as the young goalkeeper grew in confidence.

On the 75th minute, Malta came close again when Kyrian Nwoko sent Kemar Reid down the left flank. Reid delivered a good cross to Nikolai Muscat, but Dinos Koulierakis cleared his header off the line with Tzolakis beaten. Five minutes later, Nwoko unleashed a powerful shot from 20 meters, which Tzolakis turned into a corner. This was practically the last chance of the match as there was not much action in the final moments.

During the 2023/24 season, Malta participated in nine official international matches. They achieved victory in one game against Gibraltar, managed to secure two draws, including a notable one against Euro 2024 contender Slovakia, and unfortunately suffered six defeats. The defeats came at the hands of strong opponents such as Italy, England, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. It is worth noting that all four of these nations will also be participating in the final Euro 2024 tournament this summer.

These friendly games were held in anticipation of the upcoming UEFA Nations League, in which Malta will compete against Andorra and Moldova. Malta aims to secure victory in their group and ultimately earn promotion to League C.

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