• Andrej Galabinov's early strike puts Bulgaria in front
• Clayton Failla draws Malta level from the spot early in the second half
• Ivelin Popov blazes a 76th-minute penalty over the crossbar
• Bulgaria winless in three Group H games; Malta earn first point
• Next games: Bulgaria v Italy, Azerbaijan v Malta (28 March)
Bulgaria's hopes of reaching UEFA EURO 2016 were dealt a blow after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Malta in Group H at the Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski in Sofia.
The home side started brightly and gave themselves the perfect platform when Andrej Galabinov put them ahead in the sixth minute. Captain Ivelin Popov crossed from the left and Mihail Alexandrov headed the ball into the path of the AS Livorno Calcio forward, who stabbed in from close range.
Galabinov almost had another in the 26th minute but smashed a volley onto the crossbar, and after that Malta began to find a foothold in the game. After showing promise going forward towards the end of the first half, they promptly drew level early in the second. Paul Fenech was brought down in the penalty area by Popov and that gave Clayton Failla the chance to fire in Malta's first goal of the qualifying campaign – which he duly did, ending their goal drought at 319 minutes.
Bulgaria coach Luboslav Penev responded soon after by bringing on forward Ilian Micanski and attacking midfielder Marcos Marquinhos, and it was not long before the home side were making chances again. In the 61st minute, Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saved brilliantly from Alexandrov at close range, and Popov then headed against the woodwork.
Bulgaria looked to have finally forced their way back in front in the 75th minute when Micanski was brought down in the area by Rowen Muscat, only for Popov to blaze the resulting penalty over the crossbar. Bulgaria pressed for the winner, but Malta's defence held firm to earn their first point of the campaign and extend the hosts' winless run to three games.