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Valletta vs Tre Fiori

Valletta vs Tre Fiori

Complacency was Valletta’s biggest obstacle ahead of their home encounter with San Marino’s Tre Fiori yesterday.

A 3-0 victory in the first leg had prompted suggestions that Valletta were home and dry as only a catastrophe of seismic proportions would deprive them of a meeting with Lithuania’s FK Ekranas in the second qualifying round of the lucrative Champions League.

The prevailing feeling before the match was that the Citizens had already shifted their attention to their probable clash with Ekranas but they still had work to do to seal their berth in the next round.

Tre Fiori had been outplayed in the first leg but their optimism of pulling off a Houdini act rose when they seized a 21st-minute lead from a penalty after Valletta had fashioned the better chances.

Inevitably, Tre Fiori’s early goal unsettled Valletta who had been the better side until then but after a few wobbles, the Whites reclaimed the initiative to run rings around their tiring opponents who gave up their ghost after Matteo Vendemini was dismissed for two bookings.

Two second-half goals ensured that Valletta rubberstamped their passage to the second qualifying round with a home victory, 5-1 on aggregate, but their margin of their win would have been far bigger had the Citizens taken half the chances they created.

Their wastefulness caused some frustration to their fans, who packed the Hibs Stadium, but all was forgotten when the referee blew the final whistle as the City faithful savoured their team’s European win.

Coach Jesmond Zerafa opted to keep Roderick Briffa and Jonathan Caruana in reserve after both earned a caution in the first-leg victory. The onus of replacing Caruana fell on Kenneth Scicluna, who was making his first start for the Citizens in a year, while Ousseni Zongo replaced Briffa.

Captain Gilbert Agius and Ian Zammit were also handed starting roles as Ryan Fenech and William Barbosa were named on the bench. A loud applause filled the air as Michael Mifsud, Valletta’s latest marquee signing, walked onto the pitch to salute the buoyant City fans before kick-off.

Valletta may have taken the lead inside the opening two minutes. Alfred Effiong released Denni who sped into the box but his angled grounder was tipped away by Tre Fiori goalkeeper Gianluca Cola.

Denni’s brisk movement was giving the Tre Fiori defence a torrid time. On one occasion, Denni got behind the back-tracking defenders to collect a long ball and ran into box but Cola made himself big to dispossess the Brazilian.

On 21 minutes, Tre Fiori gained a lifeline when they were awarded a penalty after Scicluna was adjudged to have hauled down Alessandro Giunta inside the box. Albanian midfielder Altin Lisi made no mistake from the spot to put Tre Fiori 1-0 up and 3-1 down on aggregate.

Denni created space for a shot just outside the box but his curling drive was wide. At the other end, Tre Fiori threatened to double their lead when Lisi pounced on Edmond Agius’s wayward headed clearance but the midfielder lifted his shot over the bar.

Valletta vs Tre Fiori

Nine minutes from half-time, Valletta should have levelled matters when Denni, latching onto a looping pass from Jamie Pace, darted into the box. After exchanging passes with Effiong, he came face to face with Cola but the latter managed to keep out the Brazilian’s effort.

That was to be Denni’s last contribution as the Brazilian succumbed to injury following an abrasive tackle. His void was filled by Fenech, a midfielder who can also play wide as Zerafa probably tried to redress the tactical imbalance of his team.

Three minutes into the second half, Pace let fly a powerful drive from the distance but Cola repelled his effort. The ball fell to Zammit who mishit his shot but the Valletta striker was offside.

Valletta received a double boost 11 minutes into the second half as they won a penalty after Vendemini, who had been cautioned in the first half, nudged the leaping Zammit off the ball inside the area. Pashai pointed to the spot and dismissed the Tre Fiori defender before Zammit drilled his shot past Cola to equalise.

Barbosa, who had just replaced Zongo, threatened to make an instant impact but his header from Zammit’s cross was saved by Cola.

The Brazilian was at it again moments later but his powerful header from Effiong’s service crashed against the crossbar.

Three goals up on aggregate and a man to the good, Valletta pressed on the accelerator. Pace should have fired Valletta ahead when he surged into the box to receive Effiong’s pass but the midfielder hit wide with the goal at his mercy.

The Maltese champions persisted with their attacking approach. Cola was prominent again when jumping to his right to paw away Gilbert Agius’s free-kick. From the resultant corner, Zammit’s cross was headed backward by Pace but the ball flashed against the base of the far post. A goalmouth scramble ensued as first Barbosa and then Kevin Sammut tried to direct the ball into the net but Tre Fiori survived.

Barbosa crowned his lively cameo with a goal two minutes from time, prodding home from close in after Tre Fiori failed to clear Edmond Agius’s cross.


Valletta vs Tre Fiori

VALLETTA 2 Tre Fiori 1
First qualifying round, 2nd leg

Valletta: A. Hogg, E. Agius, S. Borg, K. Scicluna, D. Falzon, G. Agius, J. Pace, Denni (41 R. Fenech) I. Zammit, O. Zongo (59 W. Barbosa), A. Effiong (77 K. Sammut).

Tre Fiori: G. Cola, M. Andreini, M. Baizan, N. Canarezza (79 S. Grana), A. Lisi, M. Simoncini, F. Vannoni, M. Vendemini, F. Amici (65 G. Zenunay), A. Giunta (90 F. Stolfi), N. Grini.

Referee: Bardhyl Pashai (Albania).

Scorers: 21′ Lisi (pen), 58′ Zammit pen; 88′ W. Barbosa.

Yellow Cards: Simoncini; Vendemini; Barbosa; Andreini.

Competition: Europa League

Date: 6 July 2011

Centenary Stadium Ta’ Qali

Valletta vs Ekranas

Valletta vs Ekranas

An early Ignas Dedura goal spelt an end to Valletta’s ambitions of prolonging their European adventure this season as Ekranas edged the Malta champions 1-0 to progress to the third qualifying round of the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League 4-2 on aggregate.

In his pre-match comments to The Times, Valletta coach Jesmond Zerafa had warned that had his team fell behind in the second leg, their chances would be all but ended.

His words turned out to be prophetical as Dedura jolted Valletta’s hopes of turning the tie around yesterday following the Lithuanians’ 3-2 win in Malta last week.

The hosts looked more match fit and did well to administer their advantage and set up a third qualifying round clash against Belarus neighbours Bate Borisov.

Despite their elimination, however, the Citizens can still take some positives from these two matches with Ekranas.

In the end, costly defensive mistakes, particularly in the first leg, sealed their fate.

Zerafa effected two changes to his starting formation.

Valletta vs EkranasDyson Falzon replaced the suspended Roderick Briffa at left back while flank defender Ian Azzopardi was switched to a central role in the rearguard to fill the void left by Jonathan Caruana, who was also serving a one match ban.

Kevin Sammut was given the job to patrol the left wing.

The Valletta coach kept to his promise of naming a more offensive line-up as he relegated Jamie Pace to the bench with Alfred Effiong forming a three-pronged attack with William Barbosa and Michael Mifsud.

Denni was only fit enough to start on the bench.

Valletta endured a nightmare start as they found themselves a goal behind after only four minutes.

Ekranas won a free-kick on the left and Ramunas Raduvicius’s inswinger was met by Dedura who headed home past goalkeeper Andrew Hogg.

Stung by this setback, the Citizens were still recovering when Ekranas almost doubled their lead.

From another free-kick, Marko Andjelkovic’s delivery found the unmarked Dusan Matovic who hit just wide.

Valletta’s first opportunity at goal arrived on 22 minutes when Nigerian Effiong pounced on some hesitant defending from the hosts to race through only to be blocked as he was about to shoot.

Scoring chances remained few and far in between with the Citizens, despite enjoying most of the possession, struggling to break down their opponents.

Their first real shot at goal arrived on 35 minutes when Ryan Fenech’s dipper was easily dealt with by Emiljus Zubas.

Four minutes from the break, Barbosa sent a dangerous cross in the Ekranas box but no City players were at hand to pounce on the opportunity.

Valletta started to play with more purpose in the second half and on 47 minutes Gilbert Agius tried his luck from the distance but Zubas was well placed to block.

The Citizens were clearly the better team in these early stages and on 53 minutes Fenech’s cross-shot was tipped to a corner by the Ekranas keeper.

Zerafa withdrew Sammut and roped in Denni as he looked to add more flair to his team’s manoeuvres.

Valletta vs EkranasThe introduction of the Brazilian livewire left a positive effect as Valletta started to put pressure on the Ekranas defence and on 65 minutes Barbosa’s effort forced Zubas into a smart save.

At the other end, Valletta’s Hogg was forced to make his first intervention of the second half on 70 minutes when he dived to his right to block Umeh’s menacing shot.

The visitors kept pushing in search of what would have been a deserved equaliser and nine minutes from time Denni’s piledriver was stopped by Zubas.

The Citizens’ best chance came six minutes from time when Falzon’s cross eluded the Ekranas defence but Mifsud dallied before firing his second attempt into the side-netting.

In time added on, Valletta again came close to cancelling Ekranas’s advantage when Brazilian Barbosa’s thumping drive from just outside the box was pushed to a corner by the alert Zubas who was on the right spot to tip the scorching shot over the bar.

From the ensuing flag-kick, taken by Denni, Azzopardi’s shot finished over.

Source: Times of Malta


Valletta vs Ekranas

VALLETTA 1 Ekranas 0
Second qualifying round, 2nd leg

Valletta: A. Hogg, I. Azzopardi, S. Borg, R. Fenech, G. Agius, E. Agius, W. Barbosa, D. Falzon, A. Effiong (67 I. Zammit), K. Sammut (54 Denni), M. Mifsud.

Ekranas: E. Zubas, R. Radavicius, A. Kucys, A. Joksas, I. Dedura, M. Alonso (70 A. Velicka), M. Andjelkovic, U. Umeh (88 J. Moroz), A. Vertelis (83 A. Ribokas), G. Tomkevicius, D. Matovic.

Referee: A. Constantin (Romania FA).

Scorers: 4′ Edura.

Yellow Cards: Sammut, Andjlekovic, Tomkevicius, Matovic, Borg, Joksas, Denni.

Competition: Champions League

Date: 19 July 2011