BOV Super Cup Valletta 2 Balzan 1
Valletta ended 2019 in the best possible way as the Malta champions came from a goal down to overcome Balzan by the odd goal in three and secure the BOV Super Cup for a second successive year.
Things had initially looked bleak for Valletta as despite dominating possession for much of the opening 45 minutes they still found themselves a goal behind after the interval courtesy of a fine individual striker from Balzan winger Uros Ljubomirac.
However, Valletta showed all their match-winning pedigree in cup finals when turning the match on its head inside the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Mario Fontanella fired home a spectacular equalizer just three minutes into the restart and his strike partner Kyrian Nwoko completed his team’s comeback with an even better finish 11 minutes later to hand Valletta a record 13th success in the competition.
But apart from the satisfaction of adding another piece of silverware their trophy cabinet, the win will surely be a major psychological boost for Valletta ahead of the second part of the season where they will hope they can claw themselves back into the Premier League title race as they look to retain the championship for a third successive season.
Santiago Malano made a welcome return to the Valletta squad as the Argentine midfielder completed his rehabilitation from a cruciate knee ligament injury that ruled him out of the first part of the season.
Coach Darren Abdilla made three changes to the team that beat Ħamrun Spartans last week as Ryan Camilleri replaced Jonathan Caruana while Nicholas Pulis was preferred to Kevin Tulimieri while upfront Kyrian Nwoko started ahead of Bojan Kaljevic.
Balzan, on their part, welcomed back in the fray Ricardo Correa who replaced Stefan Dimic while Steve Bezzina started ahead of Michael Johnson.
Valletta controlled the proceedings in the early stages of the first half and Balzan goalkepeer Kristijan Naumovski was forced into a fine one-handed save after 14 minutes when he tipped over Nicholas Pulis’ long-range shot.
On 23 minutes Balzan protested for a penalty when Andrija Majdevac under the challenge of Joseph Zerafa but referee Philip Farrugia waved play on.
At the other end, Matteo Piciollo came close but his deflected shot finished just over.
Just past the half hour mark, Ricardo Correa broke through the Valletta defence but the Uruguayan winger hit a low shot that was blocked by Henry Bonello.
Balzan, however, were not to be denied on 34 minutes when Paul Fenech fed Uros Lubomiraon the edge of the area and the Serbian winger raced past his marker before hitting a low shot that rolled past the diving Bonello.
Valletta’s response to that setback was quite sterile and in fact they failed to create any danger to the Balzan goal until the half-time interval much to the dismay of their fans.
However, the City supporters were soon back in full voice at the start of the second half as inside the first three minutes from the restart they werer back on level terms.
A poor back pass from the Balzan defenders was intercepted by Fontanella who quickly made space for himself and hit a fine curling drive that flew past Naumovski.
Valletta could have struck again on 55 minutes when Fontanella picked Nwoko inside the area but the Malta striker headed wide.
However, the young City forward made up for that miss four minutes later.
Zerafa picked Nwoko on the edge of the area and after chesting the ball down he let fly a firm volley that flew into the net via the crossbar.
Balzan coach Scerri tried to ramp up his team’s attacking charge when he withdrew Bezzina and roped in Luke Montebello as he looked to bring the match back on level terms.
Montebello almost left an instant mark as on 74 minutes he latched to Correa’s cross but he deflected the ball just wide.
Two minutes from time, Nwoko almost clinched his second of the match when he controlled Pena Beltre’s cross but fired over.
But that little mattered as minutes later referee Philip Farrugia blew the final whistle amid the celebrations of the City fans that reached their peak when captain Steve Borg lifted the Super Cup trophy.
VALLETTA: H. Bonello, S. Borg, R. Camilleri, M. Piciollo (S. Dimech), K. Nwoko (B. Kaljevic), J. Borg, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa, N. Pulis, R. Muscat, M. Fontanella (K. Tulimieri)
BALZAN: K. Naumovski, A. Loof, A. Kosoric, S. Pisani, S. Bezzina (L. Montebello), P. Fenech, A. Effiong, U. Ljubomirac, I. Bozovic, R. Correa, A. Majdevac.
Yellow Cards: R. Correa (B)
Scorers: 34′ U. Ljubomirac (B), 48′ M. Fontanella, 59′ K. Nwoko (V)
Referee: P. Farrugia