Ireland finish international break with frustrating 1-0 in vs. Malta

Nathan Collins #12 of Ireland.(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Nathan Collins #12 of Ireland.(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) /
Ireland Football
Alan Browne, Ireland’s No. 8 (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) /

While all eyes were on the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the Republic of Ireland traveled to the Ta’ Qali National Stadium to take on Malta in its second and final game of this international window.

Ireland was looking for a better showing in this one after suffering a 2-1 defeat to Norway on Thursday at home at the Aviva. This was an important matchup as it was the last warmup fixture before the Irish begin their 2024 European Championships qualification in March with an intriguing matchup against France.

Although Malta is ranked 168th in the latest FIFA Rankings, Ireland knew that this match was going to be no easy task. Malta beat Israel in September and they tied Greece, who are in Ireland’s Euro qualification group, 2-2 at home this past week.

Ireland coach Stephen Kenny employed a 3-5-2 formation. Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher was the starting netminder behind a back three of Coleman, Egan, and Collins. They had a midfield of McClean and Doherty on the wings with Cullen, McGrath, and Browne patrolling the center. Finally, Ireland started a front two of Robinson and Ogbene.

Ireland escape with a 1-0 win

As expected, Ireland controlled much of the game from the start as they dominated possession and constantly had the ball in Malta’s half. When Malta’s defenders got the ball, they heaped the long balls forward to Ireland’s defensive half.

Malta had the best scoring opportunity of the first half, however, but Jodi Jones failed to deliver a good shot in minute 12 and Caoimhin Kelleher made an easy save to keep the sides scoreless.

Ireland was left frustrated through the whole first half as they were wasteful in the attacking third and could not capitalize on their opportunities.

As they headed to the locker rooms, the sides were goalless. The Irish had 6 attempted shots, with none hitting the target, 4 corner kicks, were offsides twice, committed 6 fouls, and had 67% of the possession.

The Second Half

After an unimpressive first half, Ireland did not make any changes to start the second half and went with the same starting 11.

Just over 2 minutes into the second 45, Jones was attacking Ireland’s net, and while just outside of the box, he was clipped by Nathan Collins. Collins was assessed a yellow card. Malta was given a free kick in a great position, but were wasteful with it as it hit Ireland’s wall.

A couple of minutes later, a similar situation happened at the other end as Josh Cullen was taken down just outside of Malta’s box and the visitors were awarded a free kick. Alan Browne took the free kick and it deflected off Malta’s wall for a corner kick. Subsequently, Ireland could not convert on their corner.

Finally, in the 55th minute, Ireland broke the deadlock courtesy of a Callum Robinson goal. Robinson took advantage of a terrible pass by Matthew Guillaumier of Malta back to his goalkeeper. Robinson intercepted the pass, stepped around Malta’s goalkeeper, and shot the ball into the open net to give Ireland a 1-0 lead.

After the goal, the match returned to the structure it had throughout the first half: not many opportunities and plenty of fouls that disrupted the flow of the game.

In the 66th minute, coach Kenny made a couple of changes as Jeff Hendrick replaced Alan Browne and Callum O’Dowda came on for James McClean. Then in the 77th minute, Evan Ferguson replaced Chiedozie Ogbene. In the 85th minute, Mark Sykes entered the game for Robinson.

O’Dowda had one of the best chances of the final quarter-hour. In the 87th minute, O’Dowda attacked Malta’s net, but hit the post and Ireland could not increase their lead to 2 goals.

Malta didn’t get many opportunities in the final minutes of the match and the Irish finished this window with a 1-0 win.

Final Thoughts

Although Ireland was victorious, this was a frustrating evening for Stephen Kenny’s men. Full credit to Malta for playing a tough game. Although they are considered one of the “minnows” of UEFA, they did not look out of place. I would not be surprised if Malta causes an upset or two in the upcoming Euro qualifiers.

The Boys in Green did not look convincing in their play this evening and when you take into account Thursday’s result versus Norway, they have a lot of work to do before their competitive fixtures start in March.

Next. Ecuador make easy work of Qatar with 2-0 win. dark

As stated above, the next time we will see Ireland in action is next March as they begin their qualification for the 2024 European Championship where they have been slotted in Group B, along with France, Netherlands, Greece, and Gibraltar.