2000-2001 Valletta vs Rijeka
A serious gloom was cast around an expectant Ta’ Qali stadium last night as the vocal City fans saw their team’s hopes of gaining a berth in the first round proper of the UEFA Cup crushed by two early extra-time goals which ultimately gave NK Rijeka a 5-4 victory.
Those who witnessed Valletta’s unlucky elimination were gripped by a back-to-square-one feeling at the end of an epic match. Valletta’s 3-2 slim defeat in Croatia two weeks ago had heightened expectations among their supporters and this mirrored in the vibrating atmosphere at the stadium yesterday.
Although Valletta’s elimination will be viewed as a blow for Maltese football given that the hopes of the nation were invested in Krassimir Manolov’s men, nothing can alter the truth that the Citizens were more than a match for their more quoted opponents and were only undone by hard luck and their tendency to concede soft goals.
Valletta looked a solid bet to qualify at the end of regular time when they were leading 3-2 courtesy of Gilbert Agius’s superb hat-trick. However, two early goals in the opening period of extra-time shattered their dream and killed off their battling display, albeit David Carabott lifted their shattered spirits with a gem of a goal three minutes from the end of the extra-time.
Four minutes into extra-time, Milicic teased and tormented Theuma before he squared the ball to Brajkovic. The latter’s body turn deceived Carabott and put him face to face with Cini before he planted the ball into the net to make it three-all.
This goal virtually ensured qualification for Rijeka and knocked the stuffing out of the Valletta players who nearly conceded another goal had it not been for a fine Cini save on Milicic.
The Citizens now poured forward in search of goal which would have re-opened the issue but in doing so, they left their back door ajar. Rijeka applied the killer blow 13 minutes into extra-time when Hasancic’s defence-splitting pass was diverted into the net by Karl Bonnici.
Carabott dropped a slim lifeline for the Citizens when he brought them back on level terms with a blistering shot from the three-quarter line but a minute later Hasancic rifled past Cini for a 5-4 final scoreline.
The significance of the match seemed to affect the Valletta players who looked lethargic in the opening exchanges and their passing grew increasingly erratic as the first half wore on.
Nineteen minutes into the game, Cini had to dash out of his place to block on Hasancic. From the ensuing corner, the Valletta ’keeper mistimed his intervention, the ball rolled into path of Mijatovic whose goalbound effort was hooked off the line by Carabott.
The danger was not over for the Citizens as another Rijeka looping shot brought a fine save from Cini who tipped over the bar.
On 28 minutes, the Valletta rearguard was caught on the wrong foot again and a fine interchange between Hasancic and Kremenovic threatened to break the deadlock but Cini saved Hasancic’s shot.
Moments later, Valletta seized the lead thanks to Agius whose long-range strike took a deflection off Mijatovic which wrong-footed Tafra.
Cue outpouring of joy and relief among the Valletta faithful but their celebrations were shortlived because Rijeka restored equilibrium on 32 minutes. The Valletta defence failed to cut out a cross, the ball came Hasancic’s way, the latter released Kremenovic who beat Cini with a low shot.
Rijeka goalkeeper Tafra breathed a huge sigh of relief on 37 minutes when a Giglio shot was again deflected, this time by Skocibusic but the ball ended just over.
Dvorak’s surging run took him inside the Rijeka box but just as he was shaping up to shoot, Mijatovic dispossessed him with a last-ditch tackle. On the stroke of half-time it was the turn of Oretan to fluff a fine opening for the Citizens as he blasted high after being freed by an intelligent Agius pass.
A more urgent Valletta side took the field for the restart and their efforts were soon rewarded. The Citizens constructed a fine move which saw Dvorak despatching a teasing cross from left, Oretan chested the ball to Agius who unleashed a powerful shot that flew into the top righthand corner of Tafra’s goal.
Cini then brought the house down when he dived at full length to turn to corner a curling Mijatovic freekick.
At the other end, the half-fit Giglio came close to doubling Valletta’s lead but his first-time strike was just off target. In surging forward in search of the killer goal, Valletta left themselves exposed at the back and Rijeka capitalised in the 63rd minute. Brajkovic’s cross from the right found Milicic who coolly placed the ball into the net. Cini then kept Valletta afloat with a fine save to deny Brajkovic.
Despite this setback, the Citizens did not surrender and an Oretan scorcher flew high. Pavel Mraz, so impressive in Valletta’s 6-1 rout of Xghajra Tornadoes on Sunday, rose off the bench to replace skipper Kris Laferla in a move clearly aimed at widening the Citizens’ attacking spectrum.
Mraz’s introduction produced instant dividends for Manolov as his pinpoint cross from the left was met by Agius who headed past Tafra to complete a hat-trick. This came after 69 minutes. Moments later, Oretan could have eased the Citizens’ nerves but he was again let down by some poor finishing as his drive bounced high.
Fifteen minutes from time, a Matulovic goal was ruled out for offside. Nine minutes from time, Oretan and Mraz combined perfectly well to launch a menacing counter-attack but Tafra averted the danger by blocking on Agius.
Source: Times of Malta
Valletta 4 Rijeka 5
Qualifying round, 2nd leg
Valletta: R. Cini, D. Theuma, J. Chetcuti, K. Laferla (P. Mraz), K. Bonnici, J. Buttigieg (N. Veselji), G. Agius, D. Carabott, S. Giglio (R. Forace), C. Oretan, K. Dvorak.
Rijeka: D. Tafra, D. Viskovic, M. Vejs, A. Mijatovic, S. Skocibusic, G. Brajkovic, D. Matulovic, A. Hasancic, K. Caval (M. Tomisic), R. Kremenovic (I. Maroslavac), A. Milcic.
Referee: L. Gadosi (Slovakia)
Scorers: 29′ 49′ 69′ G. Agius, 32 Kremenovic, 63′ Milcic, 93′ Brajkovic, 103′ K. Bonnici o.g., 117′ D. Carabott, 118′ Hasancic.
Date: 25 August 2000
Competition: UEFA Cup
National Stadium Ta’ Qali