UEFA Europa League Astana 5 Valletta 1
Astana: Eric; Rukavina, D. Rotariu (R. Murtazayev), Sigurjonsson, Tomasov, Maevski (Y. Pertkush), Mubele (R. Janga), Simunovic, Logvinenko, Postnikov, Shomko.
Valletta: H. Bonello; R. Camilleri, K. Nwoko (S. Dimech), S. Borg, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa, Douglas (M. Piciollo), R. Muscat, M. Fontanella, Y. Messias, K. Tulimieri (N. Pulis)
Scorers: 15′ Y. Logvinenko, 8′ 35′ M. Tomasov, 57′ R. Sigurjonsson, 80′ R. Janga (A), 67′ M. Fontanella (V),
Yellow cards: Y. Logvinenko,
Valletta’s chances of clinching an historic Europa League play-off berth were heavily dented after going down 5-1 to Astana in Kazakhstan, yesterday.
The Kazakhstan champions romped to a three-goal lead in the first half at the Astana Arena with Valletta struggling to cope with the hosts intense pressure and quick forays on the flanks.
Astana, who were in the 2015- 16 Champions League group stages, continued to pile up the pressure on the Maltese team in the second 45 minutes and they made sure of the win, and most probably of qualification, by adding two more goals to ensure they travel for next week’s second leg at the Centenary Stadium with an assuring buffer.
Henry Bonello came to Valletta’s rescue on numerous occasions and if it was not for his saves, the Malta champions could have left Kazakhstan with an even more pronounced deficit.
Darren Abdilla opted for an offensive team as he deployed Kevin Tulimieri, Yuri Messias, Mario Fontanella and Kyrian Nwoko from the start. Brazilian Douglas returned to the starting line-up after he skipped last week’s second leg against Ferencvaros due to a back injury.
Valletta’s struggles are reflected in the game statistics as they only managed three shots on target, including Fontanella’s goal in the second half, against Astana’s 12 as the latter are looking to secure a Europa League group stage place for the second straight season.
After a flurry of quick chances through Tomasov and Rukasina, Astana forged ahead on eight minutes through Sigurjonsson who capitalised on a Rotariu inviting ball inside the eighteen.
Astana doubled the score on the 15th-minute mark. From a free-kick action, Logvinenko connected perfectly with the ball to head past Bonello.
The hosts continued to make their pressure count as past the half-hour of play, Tomasov found a third with a delightful lob from a tight angle as the game was clearly slipping out of Valletta’s hands.
Douglas attempted an effort from long-range but failed to surprise Eric as Valletta’s chances were few and far between.
Mubele, undoubtedly one of Astana’s major threats, could have added a goal to his name had he not squandered a close-range effort on the brink of half-time.
Astana thought they had scored a fourth before the break but Tomasov’s rebound into an empty net was ruled out for an offside position.
However, Astana were not to be denied moments before the hour mark as Sigurjonsson netted his second of the game.
Valletta did pull one back against the run of play through Fontanella, who made room for himself behind Astana’s defensive line and stabbed the ball past Eric.
Yet, the Kazakh champions restored their four-goal lead through Janga who beat Valletta’s offside trap to easily slot the ball past a helpless Bonello to wrap up a comfortable victory.
Photo credits: http://fcastana.kz