Malta Under 21 wilt to powerful Belarussians in first friendly

The Malta Under 21 team played the first of two friendly matches against Belarus yesterday, in which the visitors proved to be too strong with a 2-0 scoreline. It was a cagey performance by the home side, who had no answer to the clinical Belarussians, who beat Greece in their most recent U21 qualifier. The solid opposition proved a hard nut to crack for the locals who were strong and physical at the back and displayed plenty of power up front.

Malta U21 coach Ivan Woods experimented on a few positions and reserved a spot for Keyon Ewurum in the starting line-up, the first U21 cap for the Valletta forward. In the heart of the defence, Mattias Ellul re-appeared for a second cap after his debut against Spain at the start of the season. Mosta center-back Jake Vassallo was given an unusual role on midfield in front of his defence. Towards the end of the game, Woods also allowed Sven Xerri and Leonardo Agius to make their U21 debut.

On ten minutes, Pavel Kotlyarov’s header from a corner action just missed target, Belarus’ first chance of the game. The game continued with the visitors having a slight upper-hand but initially without creating any danger in the Malta box. However, on 36 minutes, centre-back Nikita Baranok headed a free-kick past Hugo Sacco from close-range to break the deadlock. Not much later on the other side, an Owen Spiteri shot in the right direction missed the necessary power to threaten towering Belarus goalkeeper Arseniy Skopets. Both sides produced a further two off-target attempts before the end of the first 45 minutes, a first half which never reached any heights however.

Eight minutes after the re-start, Belarus doubled thanks to another close-range header, this time by captain Daniil Dushevskiy from a precise Arseniy Ageev cross from the right flank. The same Dushevskiy angled just a few millimetres over the bar from a direct free-kick a few minutes later.

On 69 minutes, substitute Jake Engerer should have done better for Malta while entering the box from the right side but chose to shoot at goal instead of passing towards two unmarked teammates, which was perhaps the best opportunity for the home-side of the match. During the last twenty minutes, Belarus continued to control the game however, with four off-target long distance shots which never really troubled Hugo Sacco or substitute goalkeeper Matthias Debono.

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