Without scoring a penalty, Ukraine managed to beat Malta in the Euro 2024 qualifier
On 19 June, in Trnava, Slovakia, the Ukrainian national football team played its third match in the 2024 UEFA European Championship qualifiers and the first nominally home match in 2023. The Blue and Yellows beat Group C outsider Malta 1-0 at the Anton Malatynskyi Stadium, but Serhiy Rebrov's second official match turned out to be very nervous.
It is worth noting that to date, the Ukrainians and the Maltese have met only once in their history, and that 2017 confrontation in Graz ended in an unexpected 0-1 defeat for Andriy Shevchenko's team.
In the Euro 2024 qualifiers, the islanders lost all three matches with a total score of 1-8, but still rattled the nerves of the Blue and Yellows, who defeated North Macedonia 3-2 in a dramatic thriller on 16 June.
Compared to the Macedonians, Rebrov made four substitutions at once - Tymchyk, Mykolenko, Mudryk and Dovbyk went to the bench, giving Konoplya, Kryvtsov, Malinovskyi and Vanat the opportunity to come on from the first minute. And although about 10,000 fans in Trnava created a truly homely atmosphere for the Ukrainians, the match turned out to be very difficult for our team.
After the aggressive first minutes, Rebrov's men slowed down, began to lose the ball more often, which was immediately picked up by the opponent. And Malta offered Ukraine a very intense defence, which was very difficult for our players to overcome.
The Ukrainians created a real scoring chance in the 16th minute when Tsygankov escaped from the tacklers on the left flank and passed to Vanat in the opposition penalty area, but the Dynamo player, shooting from the goal line, hit the goalkeeper straight on. Yarmolenko tried to finish the ball into the net, but the defender blocked the shot of the Blue and Yellows captain.
It is worth noting that Malta also fought back. In the 24th minute, Jones shot from 10 metres out at the Ukrainian goal, but, fortunately for us, missed the target. Ukraine responded dangerously in the 37th minute, when Tsygankov fired from a distance after Sudakov's pass, seeing that the Maltese goalkeeper had come out of the goal.
An extremely unpleasant moment occurred four minutes before the end of regular time in the first half. Vladyslav Vanat tried to close the pass from the flank and played very hard against the opposition goalkeeper, who had to receive medical attention for several minutes.
It seemed that Bonello was also hit in the face, but the doctors were mainly concerned with the goalkeeper's hand, wrapping part of his hand and finger. As a result, the injured goalkeeper left the field, and the Maltese debutant Greek came on instead.
As a result, the referee added seven minutes to the first half, during which the Ukrainians tried very hard to go into the break as leaders.
And the ball did find its way into the Maltese goal - Malinovskyi shot from distance, the goalkeeper barely parried the shot, Vanat threw the ball along the goal, and Tsygankov effectively completed the combination. However, the referee disallowed the goal, as Vanat was offside when the Marseille midfielder struck. If Ruslan had scored with a direct hit, there would have been no questions.
As it was, it was 0-0 after the first half, although Ukraine played the last minutes of the half very aggressively and pushed the nominal guests to their goal.
In the second half, just like with the Macedonians, Ukraine came out much more motivated, aggressive and inventive. Chances at goal began to arise much more often, the guests fought back, until a real fire broke out in their penalty area in the 49th minute. After Konoplya's cross, Yarmolenko, Vanat, and then Stepanenko took shots on goal. And after a shot by the Shakhtar leader, the ball hit the opponent's hand.
The referee watched the episode with the Maltese player's hand for a long time and finally gave a penalty. Our national team captain Andriy Yarmolenko beat the goalkeeper but hit the crossbar. And his goalless streak for the national team has now reached 7 matches.
After a lucky escape, Malta even found the strength to go forward and create a dangerous moment, forcing Trubin to enter the game.
The Ukrainians' game was exacerbated by the release of Vitaliy Buyalsky, who in the 65th minute tried very hard to close the pass in someone else's goalmouth, but again the Maltese goalkeeper, who was the first to get to the ball, was injured. Fortunately, it was not as serious as in the first half.
Yarmolenko, who regularly aggravated the situation at the Maltese goal, really wanted to atone for his missed penalty. And in the end, he was brought down in someone else's penalty area. And the referee again pointed to the penalty spot.
And what Yarmolenko failed to do in the 72nd minute, Tsygankov was able to do, beating the Greek from the 11-metre mark. The Girona midfielder hit the corner to his left when the goalkeeper jumped to his right.
In the remaining time, the Ukrainians created many chances but failed to convert them. The winning goal, just like in the match against Northern Macedonia, was scored by Viktor Tsygankov.
The Blue and Yellows again played two different halves, again making their fans nervous. However, in two official matches under Rebrov's leadership, the team has gained 6 points and is currently showing an absolute result, ranking second in Group C.
It will be recalled that the blue and yellows are playing in Group C alongside England, Italy, Northern Macedonia and Malta. The two best teams will receive direct tickets to Euro 2024 in Germany. However, the participants will still have a chance to make it to the championship through the Nations League play-offs.