UEFA Champions League: (2nd Leg) Valletta 1 Red Star Belgrade 2
A tenacious performance by Valletta simply wasn’t enough to book the team a place in the Champions League third qualifying round at the expense of Red Star Belgrade.
Valletta looked set for a historic result in Belgrade when Jonathan Caruana headed home early in the match but Alesandar Katai and Crvena Zvezda gave the Serbians an unconvincing 2-1 win, enabling them to qualify on 4-2 on aggregate.
Despite the disappointment of conceding in the match so late, a depleted Valletta had good reason to be pleased with their resolute performance against the more-fancied opponents.
Fourth-choice goalkeeper Emanuel Bartolo produced a good performance, as Jhonnattann was formidable up front but still Valletta missed Federico Falcone’s predatory instinct, spurning three clear-out chances that could have killed the match.
Jonathan Caruana leaped above the home defence to head Valletta into the lead from a corner by Jhonnattann in only the 10th minute in Belgrade.
The goal was just reward for the way a largely depleted Valletta side carried the game to Red Star in the opening minutes when they created two scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes and then defended superbly against their opponents’ strike force.
Almost 12 minutes later, Jhonnattann almost doubled the score with a brilliant individual effort from the halfway line that took him past three Red Star challenges before firing wide off the far post of Damir Kahriman, the Red Star goalkeeper.
But shy the half hour, Crvena Zvezda equalised. Guelor Kanga outpowered Romao Romeu on the right side before squaring the ball towards the unmarked Mitchell Donald who beat Emanuel Bartolo with a powerhouse via the post.
After the change of ends, the exchanges remained balanced but Valletta drove forward with more zest. On 57 minutes, Michael Mifsud’s effort brought a one-hand save from Kahriman.
On the other side, Aleksandar Katai’s free-kick finished against the post with Huga Vieira shooting the rebound into the side-netting.
Another sweeping attacking move followed as Jhonnattann used his speed and agility to unhinge the Red Star defence again before shooting wide.
But 15 minutes from time, the 1991 European Champions were able to put their mind at rest when substitute Slavoljub Srnic sliced Valletta’s defence wide open with a through-pass for Katai who slid the ball underneath Bartolo’s body.
Valletta refused to throw in the towel but nine minutes from time, they found Kahriman at his best to see the Serbian goalkeeper keep out Mifsud effort that all but save the result for his team.
Source – Times of Malta
VALLETTA – M. Bartolo, J. Benites, R. Briffa (L. Cremona), I. Azzopardi (U. Calistus), R. Romao (S. Malano), C. Pani, J. Caruana, J. Gill Cruz, L. Aguirre, S. Borg, M. Mifsud
RED STAR BELGRADE – Kahriman, Le Tallec, Kanga (Ruiz), Katai, Mouche (Srnic), Cvetkovic, Donald, Veira (Sikimic), Rendulic, Ibanez, Phibel.
Yellow: R. Briffa, S. Borg, L. Cremona (V) Katai, Donald (R)
Scorers: 11′ J. Caruana (V), 30′ Donald, 76′ Katai (R)
Referee: Tore Hansen (Nor)