By Jay Mwamba
Yugoslavia, one of Ireland’s main rivals in the Euro 2000 soccer qualifying race, produced a less than stellar performance despite thrashing Malta 3-0 in a Group 8 match in Valetta last Wednesday.
The result, however, was good enough to produce gridlock at the top of group where the Yugoslavs joined Ireland, Croatia and Macedonia on the four-point mark.
Ominously though, Yugoslavia have a game in hand to the other three.
Albert Nad (22nd minute) drew first blood for the visitors at the Ta’Qali stadium after a defensive error by David Canilleri but were lucky not to concede an equalizer before the half following several
close calls by Maltese forwards Gilbert Agius, CarmelBusuttil and John Buttigieg.
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Nad continued his heroics with a much needed second goal in the 55th minute, before substitute Savo Milosevic, who had come on for Darko Kovacevic, iced the game with number three in injury time.
Ireland still lead the group on goal differential (plus six), followed by Macedonia and Yugoslavia (both plus 4), and Croatia (plus two). Malta is at the bottom of the group after losing their fourth straight game.
The Euro 2000 qualifying competition resumes in earnest on March 27 with Ireland away to Macedonia and Yugoslavia hosting Croatia in Belgrade, in the first ever meeting between the two bitter foes who once played together under the Yugoslav federation flag.
Goals by Vassos Melanarkitis (18th), Michalis Constantinou (32nd, 45th) and Marios Christodoulou (88th), saw Cyprus dispatch fellow minnows San Marino 4-0 in Limassol and vault to the top of Group 6 — for now.
The Cypriots took a two-point over erstwhile leaders Austria (7 points) who return to action on March 27 with a crunch match against second from the bottom Spain in Valencia. Cyprus visit Isr’l on the same weekend.