Frustrated for 86 minutes at the Ta' Qali National Stadium, Ukraine then struck three times to beat Malta 3-0 and move three points clear at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying Group 8 summit.
The conclusion was harsh on Malta who had defended defiantly, with Steve Borg particularly impressive at the heart of the hosts' rearguard. Yaroslav Rakitskiy's 87th-minute penalty finally ended the home side's resistance with Andriy Yarmolenko and Valerii Fedorchuk adding further strikes.
Pavlo Iakovenko's charges and France, alongside Belgium, who had played a game more, started the day on 11 points and could ill afford to slip up against a Malta side still seeking their first result of the campaign. Home goalkeeper and captain Henry Bonello repelled a number of efforts in the first half and when he parried Denys Garmash's close-range header after the interval it looked like a draw would prevail.
However, Joseph Zerafa felled Garmash with three minutes to play and Rakitskiy's spot kick deflated the hosts. Confusion between Bonello and Zerafa allowed Yarmolenko (89) to add a second and four minutes into added time substitute Fedorchuk rubbed salt into Maltese wounds from close range. With France at home next up for Ukraine, the late surge could not have been better timed.
"We were very unlucky to lose 3-0," Malta coach Edwin Camilleri told UEFA.com. "We lost the match mentally not physically. Three goals so late in the match is something I have never experienced as a coach or player but credit to my boys, who gave everything. I believe the turning point was when Mark Scerri limped off injured. From then on, it was very difficult."
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