Euro Cup – Valletta 3 Sliema W 1
The attention in pre-season friendlies is usually centred on the new signings and other hopefuls striving to impress during their trial.
In recent years, Valletta have played a leading role in the transfer market by snapping up some of the country’s best talent but after a dismal season, they have resolved to refresh their squad with the addition of new foreigners.
Having marked his City debut by scoring the winner in the 1-0 defeat of Birkirkara, Gambian midfielder Hamza Barry further underlined his potential with a lively display as Valletta wrapped up their Euro Cup commitments with a 3-1 win over Sliema.
Hamza’s forceful runs from the middle and Italian goalkeeper Pietro Marino’s timely interventions when Sliema made a belated reaction in the latter stages of the second half were a source of optimism for the Valletta fans who were also delighted to witness an encouraging performance from Brazilian Denni.
Nigerian trialist Aud-Gustine James Obaje put Valletta on their way with an early goal after 12 minutes.
With this win, Valletta have strengthened their chances of winning this pre-season tournament as they are top of the table with seven points, three clear of Hibs who meet Birkirkara in today’s final match.
Two minutes into the game, it was a member of Valletta’s old guard, Denni, who stole attention with a cross-cum-shot from a free-kick which was pushed away by goalkeeper Glenn Zammit.
Sliema coach Alfonso Greco fielded a strong formation in which the attacking positions were also filled by foreign players as Argentines Matias Muchardi and Ariel Laudisi and Nigerian Stanley Ohawuchi were detailed to provide support to Italian forward Andrea Navarra.
It was Valletta who produced the better stuff in the opening exchanges and after 12 minutes, Obaje put them ahead when stroking the ball past Zammit after receiving an excellent pass from Denni.
Buoyed by his goal, Obaje produced another fine move, drifting into the box from right after latching on to a long pass from Ryan Fenech, Valletta’s stand-in captain in the continued absence of Roderick Briffa who is still negotiating a new contract with the club, Obaje’s centre found no takers.
Yessous Camilleri, Valletta’s right-back, headed wide from Dyson Falzon’s cross as City remained on top.
Valletta should have doubled their lead when Obaje slipped the attentions of a host of Sliema players to meet Fenech’s set-piece cross but his close-range header was wide.
As the end of the first half approach, Sliema stirred. They came close to an equaliser when Ohawuchi cut the ball back for Alex Muscat who looked certain to score but his low strike was blocked by Jonathan Caruana.
The second half was less than a minute old when Valletta were awarded a penalty after Clifford Gatt Baldacchino was adjudged to have floored Hamza in the box. Denni drilled shot past Henry Bonello.
A flowing City move should have produced a third goal. Denni’s accurate pass picked out Barry who surged forward before releasing Shawn Bajada but the latter’s grounder skimmed the far post.
Bonello denied Valletta a third goal with a top-notch save from Bajada’s curling free-kick but, with 21 minutes left, Valletta went 3-0 up.
Obaje cut into the box from the right before laying the ball back for Bajada who hammered home.
Sliema narrowed the deficit nine minutes from time thanks to Paltemio Barbetti whose low free-kick had the better of Marino.
The Blues threatened again late on as Muchardi sent Ohawuchi clear but the Nigerian’s effort was beaten away by Marino and from the rebound, Navarra hit the post.
Sliema Wanderers: G. Zammit (46 H. Bonello), A. Muscat, J. Mintoff (78 L. Martinelli), C. Gatt Baldacchino, S. Bianciardi, P. Barbetti, M. Scerri (68 B. Muscat), M. Muchardi, A. Laudisi (46 M. Ciantar (68 D. Kokavessis), A. Navarra, S. Ohawuchi.
Valletta: P. Marino, Y. Camilleri (80 Siraj Arab), L. Dimech (76 Samir Arab), J. Vandelannoite, D. Falzon, J. Caruana (46 S. Bajada), I, Azzopardi, H. Barry, R. Fenech (61 M. Stojanovic), Denni (87 K. Borg), A.J. Obaje (84 M. Thorne).
Referee: Clayton Pisani.
Source – Times of Malta.com