• Bulgaria gain first win since September with victory in Malta
• Ivelin Popov scores only goal of game (56)
• Ilian Micanski misses first-half penalty for Bulgaria
• Mid-table Bulgaria now on eight Group H points; Malta stay bottom
• Next games: Italy v Malta, Bulgaria v Norway (3 September)
A second-half goal from Ivelin Popov gave Bulgaria a vital victory in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group H, the success in Malta boosting chances of a place in next summer's final tournament.
The visitors had not won since a 2-1 triumph in Azerbaijan in their first European Qualifier, and it was the home team who began the brighter. Alfred Effiong worked a shooting chance with a fine solo run only to fire over before Bulgaria started to settle, home goalkeeper Justin Haber producing a fine save to keep out Popov's lobbed free-kick.
Malta threatened again just past the half-hour, as it took a good block from Bulgaria keeper Bozhidar Mitrev to repel Roderick Briffa's first-time attempt. Haber was then called upon to defuse a low Ilian Micanski drive, before Bulgaria passed up the best chance yet on the stroke of half-time.
When Malta's Ryan Camilleri impeded Vladimir Gadzhev in the box, Micanski sent the resulting penalty wide of Haber's right-hand upright. However, Ivaylo Petev's men did move in front 11 minutes after the restart, Popov finally beating Haber with a composed finish.
Home heads refused to drop, and Malta twice might have equalised in the closing ten minutes. First Effiong collected Camilleri's long pass only to try to find Rowen Muscat rather than shooting himself; Mitrev gathered. Clayton Failla then went close with a rising effort, before Mitrev was perfectly placed to deal with a free-kick from the same player.
Bulgaria nearly added a second in added time, Stanislav Manolev's stunning strike being rebuffed by the woodwork, but a valuable win was already secure for the fourth-placed side.
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