Valletta make Euro debut in 1964 Published on: 12-11-2015
In the early 1960s, the Champions Cup with its big names like Milan, Real Madrid and Benfica, captured the imagination of the Maltese like never before.
With the advent of television, Maltese enthusiasts could watch games from this fabulous competition live for the first time.
Dreams were conjured up of Maltese teams taking part and it was not long before the first step was taken.
In 1959, Valletta FC applied to take part in the Champions Cup but their application was rejected because Malta was not yet a fully-fledged member of FIFA.
However, when the country finally joined the world governing body, Maltese clubs became eligible to take part in competitions organised by UEFA.
The honour to represent the country in Europe for the first time fell to Hibernians and Floriana.
On September 7, 1961 Hibernians made history when they played the first leg of their European Cup match against Swiss champions Servette.
Valletta, who laid the ground for Malta’s involvement in Europe, had to wait until September 1964 before they could achieve their dream of playing in the competition.
Malta became an independent nation on September 21, 1964.
So, to mark this occasion, the MFA organised a new competition. The Independence Cup was held for the first time on September 27, 1964 between Malta’s representatives in Europe, Sliema Wanderers and Valletta.
The original plan was to hold the competition early in the season in order to give clubs participating in Europe a chance to gain some match practice.
The first edition, however, failed to achieve this objective. It was a tame affair in which both the Wanderers and Valletta showed that they were still far away from peak condition.
Sliema became the first team to write their names on the new trophy. Joe Cini scored twice for Sliema and Frankie Zammit replied for Valletta.
However, despite the opportunity offered by the new competition, things did not go well for Sliema and Valletta in their European adventure.
At least, Valletta could satisfy their ambition of playing in Europe Spanish cup winners Real Zaragoza virtually assured themselves of a place in the Cup Winners’ Cup proper when they beat Valletta at the stadium by three goals in the first leg of the preliminary round tie.
Arriving in Malta only a few hours before kick-off, the Spaniards had little chance to get used to the hard pitch of the stadium.
Yet, despite this disadvantage, they quickly adapted themselves to the abnormal conditions.
Zaragoza were a classic team. It was difficult to pick their best player but if I were to choose then I would opt for Marcellino.
He scored two great goals, the second with a full-bloodied shot which nearly ripped the rigging.
Zaragoza opened the scoring after 18 minutes when Marcellino headed over keeper Tommy Taylor who was caught out of position.
It took Marcellino only three minutes of the second half to score a second goal.
And what a goal it was! Standing just inside the penalty area, Marcellino fastened on to a through-pass from Canario and in one movement, let loose a terrific shot that flew past Taylor.
Zaragoza scored their third late on when Canario shot into the net through a ruck of players.
The return match in Zaragoza was a mere formality for the home side. The Spaniards scored five times but at least Valletta had the satisfaction of getting their first goal in European competitions.
The Citizens went to Spain without Joe Cilia who emigrated to Australia after the home game and goalkeeper Taylor.
The international goalkeeper had to leave suddenly for Ireland because his father was critically ill. His place was taken by reserve goalkeeper Stivala.
Zaragoza played attractive football which delighted the home crowd and by the 25th minute they had already scored three times through Sigi (2) and Marcellino.
Valletta bravely plodded on and they were rewarded with a goal from Pawlu Gauci.
Zaragoza were not ruffled by the visitors’ goal. They continued to dominate and in the second period they added two more goals through Santos and Sigi.
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