UEFA Champions League – Valletta 1 F91 Dudelange 1
VALLETTA: H. Bonello, S. Borg (J. Cruz Gill), R. Camilleri, K.Nwoko (S. Dimech), J. Borg, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa, D. Packer, N. Pulis, M. Fontanrlla, K. Tulimieri (A. Monticelli)
DUDELANGE: T. Kips; T. Schnell, M. Pokar, D. Sinani, D. Stolz, R. Delgado, M. Garos, M. Kirch, C. Lavie (B. Cabral Barbosa), M. Bouchouari, S. Bougrine (O. Natami)
Scorers: 35′ M. Fontanella (V), 59′ M. Pokar (D)
Yellow cards: D. Sinani, T Schnell, O. Natami, B. Cabral Barbosa (D), S. Borg, N. Pulis, M. Fontanella, E. Pena Beltre, A. Monticelli, H. Bonello, J. Zerafa (V)
Referee: J. Frischer (EST)
Valletta survived a strong second half fight back from F91 Dudelange to hold on to a 1-1 draw that secured their place into the second qualifying round of the Champions League.
It was a lion-hearted performance from the Citizens who had looked the better side for much of the opening half and their efforts were rewarded with a Mario Fontanella striker that looked to have put the Citizens firmly in the driving seat.
But in the second half, the Luxembourg side came to the fore and once they managed to level the match through Mario Pokar they completely took control of proceedings.
In fact it was all Dudelange for the final 30 minutes of the match but the Luxembourg side were denied of a crucial second goal, that would have put them through, by some fine goalkeeping from Henry Bonello and some poor finishing from their forwards as Valletta battled into the next round.
The result was a major achievement for the Citizens who managed to overcome the challenge of a team that may hail from a small country like Luxembourg but last season they had managed to reach the group stages of the Europa League.
Valletta’s reward for their efforts is a second qualifying round tie against either Hungary’s Ferencvaros and Ludogorets, of Bulgaria, who meet in the second leg today.
Valletta coach Darren Abdilla was forced to make two changes to his starting formation as Argentine midfielder Santiago Malano was ruled out with a serious knee injury suffered last week while Rowen Muscat was serving a one-match ban following his dismissal in Luxembourg. In their place, young Nicholas Pulis and Ryan Camilleri were both given the nod to start.
After a rather scrappy start it was Dudelange who created the first chance after 11 minutes when Dominik Stolz sent a teasing cross towards Ricardo Delgado but the towering defender headed just wide.
On 14 minutes, Valletta protested for a penalty when Mario Fontanella seemed to have been sandwiched by two defenders when trying to intercept a cross but referee Juri Frischer waved play on.
Four minutes later, Fontanella sent Enmy Pena Beltre clear on the right but the wing back’s cross was a bit too long for Kyrian Nwoko and the chance went abegging.
The match remained evenly-balanced for long spells with neither side managing to gain the upper hand.
But that all changed ten minutes from the break when Valletta took the lead.
Nwoko moved past his marker and hit a swerving drive that Dudelange goalkeeper Tim Kips could only deviate onto the upright but in came Fontanella who blasted home to send the City fans into delirium.
Fontanella had a glorious chance to double Valletta’s lead six minutes later.
Tulimieri ran across the Dudelange defence before picking up the City striker with a fine pass but Kips was on hand to deny Valletta’s no.89.
In the second half, Dudelange, as expected, tried to step up their tempo but it was Valletta who threatened on 56 minutes but Pena Beltre’s shot sailed wide.
Parity was restored on the brink of the hour mark when Mario Pokar picked up a short rebound and hit a low drive that was deflected past Valletta goalkeeper Henry Bonello to revive Dudelange’s hopes.
Dudelange seemed to spark into life and on 66 minutes Bonello had to be at his best to tip over Mehdi Kirch’s fierce drive.
Abdilla looked to add more cover to his team’s backline when he withdrew a tired Nwoko and roped in Shaun Dimech.
Valletta were looking increasingly on the ropes and 16 minutes from time Bonello again came to his team’s rescue when he needed to stretch his legs to keep out Kirch’s low drive after the Citizens had failed to clear the ball from a set piece.
Thirteen minutes from time substitute Bertino Cabral Barbosa passed to Ricardo Delgado who quickly set up Tom Schnell but his shot scraped past the upright.
Two minutes from time Omar Natami connected to Daniel Sinani’s flag-kick but header over.
The visitors had an even bigger chance in the first minute of stoppage time when Dominik Stolz found himself unmarked inside the area but he incredibly fired wide as Valletta held on to secure a place in the next round of the competition.