FA Trophy – Balzan beat Valletta on penalties
Balzan won a historic first FA Trophy title when they edged past newly-crowned champions Valletta 5-4 on penalties after the thrilling final had ended in a 4-4 after extra-time.
Balzan striker Alfred Effiong was the absolute protagonist as the Malta international scored all his team’s goals before converted the decisive penalty in a tense shoot-out which saw Reds goalkeeper Sean Mintoff save Nicholas Pulis’ effort from the spot.
The win ensured that Balzan played European football for a second successive season as they will now play inthe Europa League qualifiers in the summer.
Balzan made a fast start and inside the first minute Ivan Bozovic hit a low drive that was somehow kept out by goalkeeper Henry Bonello and from the rebound Steve Borg anticipated Effiong from close in
From the resultant corner, taken by Correa, Effiong’s angled header forced a fine one-handed save from the Valletta custodian.
But the Malta striker was not to be denied as on eight minutes he gave Balzan the lead.
Uros Ljubomirac intercepted Rowen Muscat’s poor pass and the Serbian charged forward before teeing up Effiong. The Balzan striker fended off the challenge of Steve Borg before hitting a low drive past a helpless Bonello.
Valletta tried to respond and three minutes later they shouted ‘penalty’ when Kyrian Nwoko went down after a challenge from Nenad Sljivic but referee Mario Apap waved play on.
One here expected Valletta to mount a serious fightback but they struggled find any fluency in their game with the result that Balzan were easily administering their advantage and try to surprise the Citizens with quick raids through Effiong.
Balzan suffered a blow on the half hour mark as Kadu suffered a knee injury and was stretchered off. His place was taken by Dale Camilleri.
Valletta finally threatened on 36 minutes when Mario Fontanella’s throughball found Nwoko who despite being at a close angle hit at goal but his effort hit the side-netting.
Parity was restored five minutes from the break.
Saleh’s throughpass was not cleared by Steve Bezzina and in came Enmy Pena Beltre who lashed a powerful drive into the roof of the net to send the City fans to raptures.
But Valletta’s joy was shortlived as three minutes later Balzan restored their lead in controversial circumstances.
Steve Pisani hit a low drive that was deflected by Steve Borg into the path of Effiong, who was in a clear offside position, and the Balzan striker hit the ball past Bonello.
Assistant referee William Debattista initially raised his flag for offside but then had his decision overturned by referee Mario Apap who ruled that Borg’s deflection was a deliberate pass towards goalkeeper Bonello.
Valletta coach Agius and his players protested at length with the officials but Apap stood by his decision and awarded the goal.
On the restart, Valletta came out strongly and on 48 minutes they almost drew level when from a Fontanella corner-kick, Malanos header just missed the upright.
Three minutes later, Kaljevic put Fontanella clear but the Italian striker was denied by the onrushing Sean Mintoff, the Balzan goalkeeper.
On 55 minutes, Enmy Pena Beltre crossed the ball into the path of Fontanella who set up Kaljevic and his thumping drive flashed just wide.
Here Agius made two changes to revitalise his team when Bogdan Gavrila and Joseph Zerafa were brought on for Kaljevic and the injured Borg.
Gavrila soon left his mark as 18 minutes from time he had a significant hand in helping his team to draw the match a second time.
Valletta were awarded a free-kick and the Romanian hit a thumping drive that was not witheld by Mintoff. The ball fell to Pena Beltre who blasted the ball into the net.
Ten minutes from time, Valletta lost their best performer on the day, Oman midfielder Saleh, who picked up an injury and was replaced by Nicholas Pulis.
Five minutes from time, Malano could have won it for Valletta but his thumping volley finished just over.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Fontanella dispossessed Kosoric and picked Nwoko but the Malta striker headed the ball straight into the hands of Mintoff as the match drifted into extra-time.
Here Balzan immediately regained the initiative with Effiong again taking centre stage when firing his team back in front.
The Reds were awarded a free-kick on the right channel and Pisani’s delivery was controlled by Effiong who hit the ball past Bonello to complete his hat-trick.
Valletta tried to force their way back and on 98 minutes Nwoko picked the ball on the edge of the area but his low shot was blocked by Mintoff.
Effiong almost struck again two minutes later when he moved past Zerafa but this time was denied by Bonello.
Valletta failed to heed to the alarm bells as Balzan all but sealed their triumph with a fourth goal.
Bozovic powered through from the right and picked Effiong inside the area and the towering forward headed firmly into the net.
On the stroke of half-time, Mintoff denied Valletta a way back into the match when he dived full stretch to keep out Nwoko’s effort.
Valletta refused to throw in the towel and they completed an astonishing fightback in the second 15 minutes of extratime.
Five minutes from time the Citizens pulled a goal back five minutes from time when Pena Beltre was upended in the area by Correa and from the spot Fontanella made no mistake from the spot.
A minute later, Valletta were reduced to ten men when Gavrila was shown a straight red card for kicking Ljubomirac.
But that failed to derail them as two minutes from time Rowen Muscat connected to Zerafa’s pass and head the ball past Mintoff via the bar to send the match to a penalty shoot-out.
Here, the Balzan players kept their composure when they scored all their penalties through Kosoric, Sljivic, Ljubomirac, Majdevac and Effiong with goalkeeper Sean Mintoff saving Nicholas Pulis’ shot to hand the title to Balzan.
Source: Times of Malta
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, J. Caruana, S. Borg (J. Zerafa), S. Malano, K. Nwoko, J. Borg, E. Pena Beltre (S. Dimech), I. Saleh (N. Pulis), R. Muscat, B. Kaljevic (B. Gavrila), M. Fontanella.
BALZAN – S. Mintoff, A. Kosoric, N. Sljivic, S. Pisani (S. Cipriott), S. Bezzina (A. Majdevac), P. Fenech, A. Effiong, U. Ljubomirac, I. Bozovic, C. Mendes Fiori, C. Correa Duarte (D. Camilleri) (J. Grioli)
Yellow Cards: H. Bonello (V), P. Fenech, D. Camilleri, I. Bozovic (B)
Red Card: B. Gavrila (V)
Scorers: 8′ 44′ 95′ 104′ A. Effiong (B) 40′ 72′ E. Pena Beltre, 115′ M. Fontanella, 119′ R. Muscat (V)
b M. Apap