Stubborn Malta hold Azerbaijan in Baku

Malta produced a solid defensive performance in Baku to hold Azerbaijan in a 1-1 draw.

Rowen Muscat celebrating with team mates after scoring for Malta. Photo: Dominic Aquilina / MFA
Rowen Muscat celebrating with team mates after scoring for Malta. Photo: Dominic Aquilina / MFA

Malta started this match looking to bounce back from their defeat against Kosovo. On the other hand, Azerbaijan were coming from an excellent result against Faroe Islands and thus were eager to win against Malta in order to keep the pace with Kosovo.

Ray Farrugia made three changes to the side that lost to Kosovo. Ryan Camilleri, Alfred Effiong and Joseph Zerafa replaced Michael Mifsud, Clayton Failla and Ferdinando Apap.

Azerbaijan made their intentions clear from the start and nearly scored the opening goal after two minutes. Following a mistake by Ryan Camilleri, Araz Abullayev ran forward and hit a powerful shot that was saved by Andrew Hogg. The rebound went into the path of Mahir Madatov whose shot was pushed away by the Maltese goalkeeper once more.

Seconds later, Malta’s defenders failed to clear the ball and Joseph Mbong was forced to concede a free-kick which nearly proved fatal as Dimitriy Nazarov’s shot stamped off the upright.

Azerbaijan had a goal disallowed on the 19th minute. Rufat Dadasov received a pass deep inside the penalty area and placed the ball past Hogg. However, the assistant referee raised his flag as Munster’s forward was offside.

Gurban Gurbanov’s men kept on insisting and created another chance on the half hour mark. Nazarov sent Madatov through on goal, but as he was about to conclude, Camilleri managed to put his leg in the way to deny him.

In their first real chance on goal, Malta forged ahead on the 37th minute. Juan Corbalan delivered an excellent cross towards Rowen Muscat who slotted the ball past Kamran Aghayev.

Azerbaijan hit back and were denied by Malta’s goalkeeper again on the 42nd minute. Following a short clearance by Steve Borg, Araz Abullayev saw his shot being blocked by Hogg.

Hogg denied Azerbaijan again one minute from time. Abdullayev’s powerful strike was parried by the thirty-three year old goalkeeper. From the resulting corner, Dadasov finished off target in front of an open goal.

 Azerbaijan started the second half on the attack in their attampts to equalise as soon as possible. They succeeded on the 53rd minute. Madatov delivered the ball towards Abdullayev who controlled it comfortably and finished behind Hogg.

Richard Almeida went close to score for Azerbaijan on the 59th minute. Astana’s midfielder saw his shot from a free-kick going marginally off target.

Malta replied on the 63rd minute. Andre’ Schembri provided a cross for Alfred Effiong and the latter headed the ball centimetres wide.

The post denied Azerbaijan from scoring again three minutes later. Tamkin Khalilzade sent a cross towards Dadasov who saw his effort hitting the woodwork.

Corbolan was unlucky not to send Malta ahead on the 70th minute as he was also denied by the post. One of Azerbaijan’s defenders tried to clear the ball and Corbolan blocked his shot with the ball ending up hitting the post.

As time went by, Azerbaijan increased their efforts and went close again on the 83rd minute. Abdullayev’s cross from the right was blocked by Hogg. The rebound fell for Almeida who fired high.

In the remaining minutes, Malta’s players remained defensively organised and kept Azerbaijan out as they managed to win their second point in the UEFA Nations League.

Azerbaijan starting line-up: Kamran Aghayev, Gara Garayev, Pavel Pashayev, Maksim Medvedev, Araz Abullayev, Dimitriy Nazarov, Rufat Dadasov, Mahir Madatov, Rahil Mammadov, Richard Almeida, Badavi Huseynov

Malta starting line-up: Andrew Hogg, Joseph Zerafa, Steve Borg, Andrei Agius, Paul Fenech, Joseph Mbong, Andre` Schembri, Rowen Muscat, Juan Corbalan, Ryan Camilleri, Alfred Effiong

Referee: Ivan Bebek (Croatia)

Assistant Referees: Tomislav Petrović, Miro Grgić

Additional Assistant Referees: Mario Zebec, Goran Gabrilo

Fourth Official: Goran Pataki