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Malta captain mutes goal celebration after journalist slain

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Malta captain Andre Schembri says the car bomb slaying of a Maltese investigative journalist prompted him not to exult after scoring an historic goal.

Schembri’s temporary equalizer for Cypriot club Apollon in a 3-1 loss to Italian side Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday made him the first Maltese player to score in proper European competition – excluding qualifying.

[ PL PREVIEW: Saints vs. West Brom ]

But instead of pumping his fist or leaping in joy over the achievement, Schembri hung his head as teammates mobbed him.

Schembri wrote on Facebook on Friday, “Celebrating my goal didn’t feel right after what happened in Malta this week.”

Malta has been stunned since Monday by the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption reporter whose targets included Malta’s leading politicians.

“When they killed Daphne I wasn’t able to sleep for three nights,” Schembri told the ANSA news agency. “Malta is Europe, it’s not the third world. We need to be united when faced with grief like this, to say that we’re better than all of this.

“I love my country and with that goal it came naturally to me to think about a reporter’s freedom and the life of a mother of three children.”

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Southgate praises Lingard’s debut performance for England

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On a day where England dominated from start to finish, it was a Manchester United youngster that caught the eyes of the Three Lions’ new manager.

[ MORE: Giggs claims he passed on Swansea job following Bradley hire ]

Gareth Southgate‘s first match as England’s boss could have gone a bit smoother in the scoring department, however, the Three Lions comfortably dealt with Malta in a 2-0 decision at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Steve Bruce being considered for vacant Aston Villa job ]

While it was Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli that earned the glory for their respective finishes prior to halftime, Southgate and his staff came away with a strong impression from United attacker Jesse Lingard, who went the full 90 minutes.

Southgate told ITV:

“Jesse Lingard had an outstanding debut and looked a real threat,” Southgate said following the match. “That’s why we wanted to start him. He’s got a strong mentality and he’s an exciting player. The stage is made for him and he’s scored twice at Wembley for United.”

The 23-year-old managed four shots on the day, troubling Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg on several occasions.

While Southgate praised his squad’s performance over the first stanza, the newly-dubbed England coach wasn’t reluctant to call out his team’s effort following halftime.

“I thought in the first half we played well and we could and should have had more goals,” Southgate said. “Their goalkeeper made good saves. One or two players looked after themselves physically. We made positive changes and missed good chances but given where we were 10 days ago I’m pleased with the result but there is room to improve on the performance.

“I think players subconsciously know the game is won and we could have made it more comfortable but some of them were thinking about the next game which comes quickly.

Rooney retained, dropped to deep midfield role in Southgate’s first England team

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UPDATE: The lineup is as listed below; the headline of this post has been updated to reflect as such.

The Gareth Southgate era is, for better or for worse, set to kick off on Saturday (12 p.m. ET), as England take on Malta at Wembley Stadium.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Kickoff is more than three hours away, as of the writing of this post, but Southgate’s first England lineup has been leaked to the public.

According to the leaked lineup, captain Wayne Rooney has retained his place in the starting starting XI, but will be deployed in a deeper midfield role, playing as the no. 6, alongside Jordan Henderson. It’s a position Rooney has willingly played on numerous occasions, for club and country, but one at which he doesn’t particularly excel.

Elsewhere in the lineup, Danny Rose has been dropped to the bench with Ryan Bertrand taking his place at left back. Joe Hart remains the starter in goal following his loan move to Torino, which is mission accomplished for him.

[ MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo hammers An-four-a in goal-scoring blitz ]

Jesse Lingard is expected to be handed his senior international debut, opposite Theo Walcott who takes up the right wing, with Dele Alli the no. 10, and Daniel Sturridge playing as a lone striker in Harry Kane‘s injury absence.


Walker — Cahill — Stone — Bertrand

Henderson — Rooney

Walcott — Alli — Lingard


Euro 2016 qualifying today: Bale’s Wales, Gigi’s Italy start on paths

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There will be plenty of star power on display Tuesday as the third day of Euro 2016 qualifying kicks off at Noon and rolls through eight matches in less than five hours.

Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie, Gianluigi Buffon and Luka Modric are among those slated to start their nation’s qualifying runs on Tuesday.

[ RELATED: Euro 2016 qualifying preview ]

A pair of early Eastern Time Zone matches get going at Noon, with Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan hoping to begin a shocking campaign by using home field to its advantage against Bulgaria.

Things don’t get any easier for the Czech Republic following last week’s 1-0 loss to the United States, as they’ll stay on home soil to host RVP and perennial powers Netherlands. They are part of a tricky Group A that also includes matchups between Iceland and Turkey, and Kazakhstan and Latvia.

Italy’s Buffon takes on Norway, while Bale’s Wales and Andorra will also tangle. Modric and Croatia will take on minnows Malta as well, while Cyprus hopes to spring a massive upset against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Tuesday’s Euro 2016 qualifiers
Azerbaijan vs. Bulgaria, Noon (Group H)
Kazakhstan vs. Latvia, Noon (Group A)
Norway vs. Italy, 245pm ET (Group H)
Croatia vs. Malta, 245pm ET (Group H)
Iceland vs. Turkey, 245pm ET (Group A)
Andorra vs. Wales, 245pm ET (Group B)
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Cyprus, 245pm ET (Group B)
Czech Republic vs. Netherlands, 245pm ET (Group A)