Valletta win Euro Cup
Gilbert Agius has his first trophy as Valletta coach.
The champions yesterday attained a pre-season fillip after capturing the Euro Cup following a 2-1 victory over Hibernians.
Abdelkarim Nafti, thriving in an advanced midfield role, was the catalyst of Valletta’s win as the Tunisian struck a brace to ensure the Whites topped the four-team standings with seven points.
Nafti and Roderick Briffa were the pick of Valletta’s players in a match that saw Hibs fielding a number of trialists but it was emerging talent Jurgen Degabriele who caught the eye.
Nigerians Bashiru Imole and Wisdom Ifeanyi joined Spanish forward Chendo Alarcon in Hibs’ starting XI.
Goalkeeper Nicky Vella made his first start since rejoining Valletta from Tarxien.
Agius opted for a diamond-shaped midfield with Nafti at the tip while Alarcon spearheaded Hibs’ 4-2-3-1 formation.
Vella made an early save to block Degabriele’s shot.
Adrian Zahra, deployed on the right wing, embarked on a good run before passing to Lateef Elford-Alliyu whose first-time effort grazed the side-netting.
Two of the Hibs new faces combined to produce an opening as Alarcon surged into the box from the left before teeing up Ifeanyi who looked odds-on to score but his effort was deflected away for a corner.
Valletta broke the stalemate on 24 minutes when Briffa’s through-ball from the right released Nafti who advanced before slotting past Jurgen Borg.
Hibs might have equalised but Vella did well to block Johann Bezzina’s close-range attempt.
A period of dull, disjointed football ensued before Valletta produced a chance, Elford-Alliyu volleying wide from Nafti’s cross.
Andrew Cohen, one of five half-time substitutes for Hibs, made an instant impact as his angled drive from outside the box caught Vella by surprise.
At the other end, Elford-Alliyu rifled wide from Briffa’s cross. Nafti then headed against the crossbar after Jonathan Pearson had partially cleared Fenech’s cross from the left.
After another plethora of substitutions, Hibs created a good opportunity but Jean Paul Farrugia’s shot was blocked by Vella.
Just when it looked as though the game would finish all square at one-all, Valletta scored the winner with only three minutes remaining.
Substitute Siraj Arab supplied the telling pass from the right and Nafti arrowed his shot past goalkeeper Daniel Balzan.
The Whites might have added a third but Briffa skewed his effort wide from Dyson Falzon’s pass.
Source: Times of Malta
Valletta: N. Vella, A. Nafti, J. Caruana, R. Fenech, I. Azzopardi, R. Camilleri, L. Elford, I. Zammit, A. Zahra, R. Briffa, S. Bajada.
Substitutes: L. Cremona, D. Falzon, M. Alkamali, S. Arab, J. P. Mifsud Triganza.
Scorers: A. Nafti 24′, 87′, A. Cohen 48′.