World Cup 2014: Malta impress despite 2-0 Italy defeat
Mario Balotelli scored twice for Italy, but Malta still produced an encouraging display on home soil
The small island of Malta isn't renowned for its football, with the national side winning only a handful of international friendlies over the past few years.
However, their recent performances, including Tuesday's 2-0 defeat against giants Italy, have seen Malta produce impressive and patriotic performances.
Their second successive 2-0 loss against the Italians earlier this week left them bottom of Group B with zero points. However, on closer inspection, what was at first expected to be an easy three points for Italy ended up becoming a hard-fought and somewhat undeserved win.
The Azzurri's first goal came from the spot, as AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy fell down easily under the challenge of Luke Dimech. The penalty was calmly converted by El Shaarawy's controversial team-mate Mario Balotelli.
Malta didn't let the goal get to them, and nearly equalised minutes later. Andre Schembri was brought down in the box by goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and the referee once again pointed to the spot. Michael Mifsud stepped up to take the penalty, but Buffon made up for it with a good save.
A short while afterwards, Mifsud escaped the challenges of two Italian defenders and unleashed a bullet of a shot that thumped against the crossbar, leaving Buffon rooted to the spot.
The second goal was a proper team goal from Italy, again set up by Milan players - De Scilio making a run with the ball close to the byline and squaring it to Balotelli, who easily finished for his second of the match.
Malta continued playing with their hearts on the pitch for the rest of the match. Although they didn't manage to find the net, they certainly created problems for Italy, and considering that most of the players only play football part-time, they truly produced an astonishing performance worthy of at least a point.
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