The Czech Republic will battle Bulgaria, Denmark and Armenia for one World Cup qualifying play-off place after beating Group B basement boys Malta 4-1.
Goals from Tomas Hubschman, David Lafata, Vaclev Kadlec and substitute Tomas Pekhart in Ta’ Qali saw the Czechs reach 12 points, despite Michael Mifsud spoiling their clean sheet, ahead of Tuesday’s crucial showdown with rivals Bulgaria.
The team from Sofia have 13 points but suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Armenia earlier on Friday that saw Vardan Minasyan’s men enter a four-nation fight for second place, which will also feature Denmark.
Malta were on the back foot for most of the match, but were unlucky when conceding the opening goal. Hubschman had been properly closed down before shooting from the edge of the box, yet a fateful deflection off Rowen Muscat unsighted goalkeeper Justin Haber and the ball span past him and into the net.
Sparta Prague striker Lafata was the next man to beat Haber as he headed Frantisek Rajtoral’s cross home in the 33rd minute.
Malta, however, regrouped somewhat over the break and pulled a goal back two minutes after the restart. Mifsud was making his 100th appearance for Malta and notched his 38th goal in red and white colours by showing great composure to beat Petr Cech.
It proved a false dawn for the hosts, though, as the Czech Republic wrested back their two-goal advantage through Kadlec four minutes later, the Eintracht Frankfurt man doing the damage from six yards out.
Malta were deflated and their heads dropped completely when, 20 seconds before the full-time whistle, Kadlec’s replacement Pekhart stole onto Borek Dockal’s cross to plunder a fourth and final goal.