Day 01 Valletta 2 Sliema W 1
Veteran midfielder Roderick Briffa scored a brilliant goal as Valletta opened their title defence with a hard-earned 2-1 win over Sliema Wanderers.
As the scoreline clearly indicates, the champions had to fight really hard for the points as Sliema were brisk and organised, growing in stature after cancelling out Llywelyn Cremona’s opener.
For a time, it looked as though Sliema were going to cause an upset but Valletta came back strongly in the second half with Briffa hitting the winner in spectacular fashion.
Valletta were off to a bright start, taking the lead after only nine minutes.
Steve Borg, overlapping on the right wing, swung in a dangerous cross that arced past a host of Sliema defenders and goalkeeper Sarao with Llywelyn Cremona flashing in at the far post to nod home.
Sliema had a good chance to level matters when John Mintoff’s cross was partially cleared but Matias Muchardi, back with the Blues after spending the last two seasons on loan, mishit his shot.
The Wanderers found their touch as the first half moved on while Valletta lost their early urgency.
Sliema duly took advantage to equalise 11 minutes from half-time, Gary Muir’s free-kick, from the inside-left channel, triggered a goalmouth melee as three blue-shirted players rose to head the ball. Muchardi appeared to glance the ball sideways with the ball hitting City defender Ryan Camilleri before rolling into the net.
In a counter-attack, Roderick Briffa supplied a long ball to Mifsud who turned past Peter Xuereb as he ran into the box from the right before picking out Santiago Malano whose weak effort ended wide of the far post.
On the verge of half-time, Sliema again profited from Valletta’s defensive woes as Mintoff, left virtually unmarked in the inside-left channel, had time and space to turn and serve Muir who sent in a swerving cross but Galin failed to connect.
Briffa drove wide from the distance as the champions sought to regain control.
Valletta goalkeeper Henry Bonello then saved Xuereb’s central header from Mintoff’s corner.
While the champions were now dominating possession, they struggled to break down Sliema’s defence.
Pani was wide with a long-range shot and Umeh Calistus, who had replaced Cremona, headed straight at Sarao from Briffa’s cross.
Valletta’s pressure paid off seven minutes from time. From Pani’s cross from the left, Romao’s header was partially cleared but the loose ball dropped to Briffa whose excellent drive gave Sarao no chance.
Source – timesofmalta.com
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, S. Borg, R. Camilleri, J. Gill Cruz, S. Malano (R. Romao), M. Mifsud (J. Borg), R. Briffa, L. Cremona (U. Calistus), C. Pani, L. Aguirre, J. Benites.
SLIEMA W. – G. Sarao, A. Muscat, M. Muchardi, R. De Souza Vilas Boas, J. Mintoff (J.P. Farrugia), M. Scerri, M. Galin, G. Aquilina (M. Sansone), P. Xuereb, G. Muir, S. Biancardi.
Yellow Cards: M. Galin, P. Xuereb, M. Scerri (S), M. Mifsud, J. Gill Cruz, U. Calistus (V)
Red Cards: M. Scerri (S)
Man of Match: Roderick Briffa
Scorers: 9′ L. Cremona, 83′ R. Briffa (V), 35′ M. Muchardi (S).
Referee: Philip Farrugia