Friday, June 5, 2020

Scotland 2 Malta 0: Berra and Griffiths keep play-off dream alive

SoccerNews in World Cup 4 Sep 2017


Scotland’s dream of reaching the 2018 World Cup remains alive after goals in either half earned Gordon Strachan’s side a 2-0 win over Malta.

Christophe Berra’s fourth goal for Scotland arrived after just nine minutes as Hampden Park braced itself for an goal-laden outing, but there was little of the fluency and cohesion of Friday’s 3-0 win at Lithuania in this performance.

Malta, bottom of Group F with no points from eight games, frustrated their hosts at times but there was relief around the ground when Leigh Griffiths scored Scotland’s second from close range after 49 minutes.

News of England’s victory over Slovakia at Wembley further boosted Scottish spirits, given that their hopes of qualification depend on leap-frogging Jan Kozak’s side into second place in the group.

Scotland will have the chance to do just that on October 5, when Slovakia arrive at Hampden Park for a crucial showdown, but they will need to be more clinical than they were here.

Strachan kept faith with the starting line-up that beat Lithuania and his side initially picked up where they left off in Vilnius.

Stuart Armstrong flashed a shot just wide of goal after five minutes as Scotland pushed forward early on, and Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg made a one-handed save from James Forrest’s close-range shot two minutes later.

The pressure paid off after nine minutes when Griffiths floated a corner to the far post where Berra rose above his marker to head the ball down past Hogg and into the net.

Armstrong latched onto Andrew Robertson’s pass down the left four minutes later and bulged the side-netting with a powerful shot, and Malta defender Sam Magri almost put the ball through his own net when turning Forrest’s low cross around the post after 21 minutes.

As the home side dropped the tempo, Malta worked their way into the game and had a shot on goal that Steve Borg put wide after 32 minutes, but the last chance of the first half went to Scotland’s Matt Phillips who curled a 25-yard shot towards the corner of the net where Hogg got down to make a good save.

Strachan sent on James Morrison in place of James McArthur for the second half and the change seemed to have a positive impact as Scotland soon doubled their lead.

Robertson broke down the left before exchanging passes with Armstrong and crossing to Morrison, whose shot came back off the post and into the path of Griffiths and the Celtic man bundled the ball into the net from close range.

Again, Scotland sat back and Stephen Pisani was allowed time and space to fire a shot over the crossbar after 51 minutes, but Strachan appeared to be content with a modest scoreline and a somewhat subdued performance.

Griffiths should have made it 3-0 when he burst down the right wing and cut inside after 66 minutes, but his shot was too close to Hogg, who saved low to his right.

After a quiet night in Scotland’s goal, Craig Gordon had to be alert to parry Joseph Zerafa’s powerful angled drive and there was relief around the ground when Alfred Effiong squandered a chance to score from the rebound, ensuring a second straight win came with another clean sheet.


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