FA Trophy Final Valletta 2 Birkirkara 1
Champions Valletta ended the season in style as they won the FA Trophy thanks to a 2-1 win over Birkirkara to notch the double. This was the second double for Valletta since Victor Sciriha took over as president just over a decade ago.
Against Birkirkara, the Citizens were clearly the better side. They had the lion’s share of ball possession and created several scoring opportunities but had to wait almost till the end of the first half to
take the lead. Birkirkara showed some signs of improvement during the second half but Valletta still continued to hold the initiative and doubled the score.
However with three minutes to go, Birkirkara pulled one back and the Stripes then went all out in search of the equaliser but the Citizens held on to the narrow lead to claim victory.
Following their 2-1 win over Balzan in the semi-finals, Valletta coach Danilo Doncic was forced to make one change as Juan Cruz Gill was drafted in for the suspended Steve Borg.
Gill joined Ryan Camilleri at the centre of the Valletta rear-guard with the usual Enmy Pena Beltre and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks. Rowen Muscat, Santiago Malano and Raed Saleh had their usual roles in midfield with Alba started on the right flank and Piciollo on the left.
However midway through the first half, Doncic switched Alba with Saleh. Kyrian Nwoko was the main striker.
Meanwhile Paul Zammit opted for two changes from the team which defeated Sliema Wanderers on penalties as Nikola Vukanac replaced Lucas Maia while Carlos Alberto was preferred to Ognjen Rolovic.
The back-four was made up of Cain Attard, Nikola Vukanac, Fernando Barbosa and Kurt Zammit; Mislav Andjelkovic and Ryan Scicluna as defensive midfielders with Edward Herrera, Jake Grech and Carlos Alberto playing in midfield, supporting Waldemar Acosta in attack.
Right from the start, Valletta made their intentions clear and Malano had a freekick from the right ending high on the 4th minute.
Muscat’s powerful shot on the 18th minute was parried by Kristijan Naumovski. Two minutes later, Matteo Piciollo received a cross from the right by Miguel Alba; the Italian pulled to a more central position, in
order to avoid Herrera’s marking, and tried his luck with a shot which ended just over the bar.
Valletta maintained the pressure and on the 21st minute, Scicluna failed to control a pass by Zammit just outside the Birkirkara area, Alba pounced on the ball and advanced into the box but his conclusion was neutralised by the Birkirkara custodian.
Kyrian Nwoko then just failed to connect off an inviting cross from the left by Zerafa on the 24th minute. Four minutes later, Pena Beltre sent Malano through on the right but his conclusion was turned into a corner by Naumovski. The Macedonian goalkeeper – undoubtedly the best player for Birkirkara – came to the rescue once again on a shot from outside the area by Nwoko and then on a Saleh effort from the right.
On the 37th minute, Piciollo dashed past Attard on the left flank and crossed with Pena Beltre’s volley neutralised by Naumovski.
Valletta finally managed to break the deadlock on the 41st minute when off a Miguel Angel Alba corner from the right, Kyrian Nwoko headed home past the surprised Naumovski.
Birkirkara’s reaction consisted of a fine cross by Carlos Alberto from the left but Henry Bonello rose high to anticipate Acosta.
The first half was not over yet as Joseph Zerafa almost scored with a shot from outside the area but was unlucky to hit the foot of the upright with the goalkeeper beaten.
Enjoying a narrow lead, the Citizens knew that it was not enough and therefore kept pushing for more. On the hour, Alba threatened with a freekick from the left but Acosta came to the rescue for Birkirkara heading the ball into safety.
Paul Zammit opted to make two substitutions, including Rolovic and Agius for Carlos Alberto and Grech. A good move as the Stripes seemed to gain more confidence. Valletta went close once again with a Piciollo diagonal shot from the right ending just wide but Birkirkara replied with a Acosta effort from the edge of the area which was parried by Henry Bonello.
The game seemed dead and buried on the 78th minute when Malano advanced on the left, entered the penalty area and rounded Vukanac before slotting past the helpless Naumovski to put Valletta two goals ahead.
Six minutes later, Saleh went close when he advanced on the right but his conclusion was blocked by the Birkirkara custodian into a corner.
However three minutes from time, Birkirkara were awarded a freekick just outside the area for a foul by Gill on Acosta and Rolovic’s freekick was deflected by a defender past Bonello, ending at the back of the net.
The fourth official signalled five minutes of added time and the Stripes starting believing more in themselves.
Rolovic had another opportunity when Birkirkara were awarded another freekick but this time, his conclusion went over the bar.
The final whistle saw scores of jubilant Valletta supporters jump onto the field of play. The pitch invasion delayed the presentation of the trophy but eventually, the Valletta players climbed the steps where captain
Ryan Camilleri was presented with the FA Trophy by MFA President Norman Darmanin Demajo.
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, J. Cruz Gill, R. Camilleri, S. Malano, M. Piciollo, K. Nwoko (J. Borg), E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa, R. Saleh, R. Muscat (N. Pulis), M. Alba (D. Dos Santos)
BIRKIRKARA – K. Naumovski, E. Herrera, F. Barbosa, M. Andelkovic, J. Grech (T. Agius), K. Zammit, N. Vukanac, C. Da Silva Goncalves Junior (O. Rolovic), W. Acosta, R. Scicluna, C. Attard (A. Attard)
Yellow Cards: M. Alba, S. Malano, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa (V), C. Attard (B).
Scorers: 41′ K. Nwoko, 78′ S. Malano (V), 87′ O. Rolovic (B)
Referee: A. Mario Sant