2017-2018 Valletta vs Folgore
Valletta opened their Europa League campaign on a sound footing after seeing off Folgore, of San Marino, by two clear goals in the opening leg of the first qualifying round at the Hibs Stadium.
It was far from a convincing performance from the Citizens who looked to be a work-inprogress side in Zoran Popovic’s official debut as Valletta coach as they struggled to display any sort of fluid football.
But the Citizens still managed to make their technical superiority count at the distance as two well-taken goals by Steve Borg and Maximiliano Velasco earned them a valuable two-goal lead ahead of next week’s second leg in Serravalle.
While Valletta should find little difficulty to protect their advantage next week and set up a second- qualifying round clash against FC Utrecth of the Netherlands, Popovic surely will be aware that there is still a lot of work to be done.
The Citizens sorely felt the absence of their midfield duo Roderick Briffa and Rowen Muscat as they lacked creativity in the final third of the pitch and the injury suffered by Uchenna Umeh in the latter stages of the match further increases the concern of Popovic who will surely look to bring reinforcements in the next few weeks.
Popovic named his strongest formation available with goalkeeper Henry Bonello and defender Joseph Zerafa, the club’s two close-season signings from Birkirkara, handed their competitive debut. Juan Cruz Gill, the Brazilian defender, was deployed in a defensive midfield role alongside Claudio Pani. Velasco was the team attacking fulcrum, supported from the flanks by Michael Mifsud and Romeo Romao.
The Citizens as expected dominated proceedings but their poor distribution of the ball hampered their chances of creating any danger to the Folgore goal. In fact they had to wait until the 23rd minute to create their first scoring opportunity.
Pani’s long pass found Mifsud who beat the offside trap but the Malta striker was denied by the onrushing Luca Bianchi. Ten minutes later, Romao powered his way into the area from the right and his low drive was palmed away by Bianchi. Valletta were desperate for an opener and that finally arrived four minutes from the break. Umeh delivered a teasing cross into the path of Steve Borg who headed firmly past Bianchi.
At the start of the second half, Valletta continued to pile the pressure and on 46 minutes Romao fired over from the edge of the area. A minute later, Umeh charged forward and put Velasco clean through and the Argentine striker slid the ball past Bianchi.
The Folgore goalkeeper came to his side’s rescue twice in the space of a minute when he first kept out Malano’s low drive and then had to be alert to block Umeh’s effort. Folgore finally threatened on 71 minutes when Marco Bernardi was at the end of a cross by Luca Bezzi but his dipping header just missed the upright.
Nine minutes from time, Mifsud embarked on a surging run from the right which saw him outpace Luca Paradisi but his cross-shot was pushed away by goalkeeper Bianchi.
Valletta almost added a third a minute from time when Mifsud’s shot was pushed away by Bianchi.
Source: times of malta
VALLETTA 2 Folgore 0
First qualifying round First leg
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, S. Borg, R. Camilleri, J.C. Gill, S. Malano, M. Mifsud, J. Zerafa, C. Pani, M. Velasco (63 K. Nwoko), U. Umeh (80 J. Borg), R. Romao.
FOLGORE – L. Bianchi, A. Semprini, A. Nucci, L. Bezzi, R.M. Lago, C. Genestreti, A. Bianchi (76 N. Venerucci), L. Paradisi, F. Sartori (83 M. Iuzzolino), C. Brolli, M. Bernardi (82 S. Sacco).
Yellow cards: Genestreti, J. Zerafa, J. Borg.
Scorers: 41′ Borg, 47′ Velasco
Referee: Denis Scherbakov (Belarus).
Competition: Europa League
Venue: Hibs Ground
2017-2018 Valletta vs FC Utrecht
Valletta produced a spirited performance to hold Dutch giants FC Utrecht to a goalless draw at the Hibs Stadium and keep alive their hopes of reaching the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Much of the talk in the prematch build-up had focused on the difficult task Valletta had in their hands to gain a positive result against the highly-rated Utrecht side who had placed fourth in the Dutch top division last season.
Coach Zoran Popovic had branded yesterday’s game as Valletta’s biggest test since he took the job in the close season and the Citizens surely passed that exam with flying colours as they showed great tactical organisation to unsettle their opponents who struggled to create any danger on the City goal.
When one looks at the whole match it was Valletta who created the better chances with Maximiliano Velasco spurning the best chance in the first half.
But in the end Valletta will surely be delighted with the result that keeps them firmly in the tie ahead of next week’s second leg in the Netherlands.
As regards, Utrecht they surely will feel disappointed with their lame showing and surely they will have to improve considerably if they are to oust the Citizens and remain in the hunt to reach the group stages of the competition.
Popovic made no changes to his starting formation as he kept faith with the same starting XI that featured in the first qualifying round win over San Marino’s Folgore earlier this month with Brazilian defender Juan Cruz Gill again deployed in a shielding midfield role.
Utrecht’s Erik Ten Hag handed a debut to his two latest signings, attacking midfielder Sander Van De Streek and forward Simon Makienok, formerly of Palermo. Urby Emanuelson, who had spells at Milan and Sheffield Wednesday, had to settle with a place on the bench.
Vitesse bossed the proceedings and their first chance came after four minutes when after good passing move Makienov picked Zakaria Labyad whose stinging drive was blocked by Ryan Camilleri.
But the best chance in these opening minutes fell to Valletta after 13 minutes as Santiago Malano chipped the ball into the path of Maximiliano Velasco and the Argentine saw his shot blocked in two attempts by goalkeeper David Jensen.
The match remained evenly balanced with scoring chances few and far between as Valletta were showing great defensive shape.
Their defensive trio of Ryan Camilleri, Joseph Zerafa and Steve Borg looked rock solid and were closing all avenues to the Utrecht forwards.
Malano, aided by the hard working duo of Claudio Pani and Gill, was distributing good balls for forwards Mifsud and Velasco who were unsettling the visitors defence with their speed.
Utrecht finally threatened on the half hour when Van De Streek’s low drive was somehow pushed away goalkeeper Henry Bonello.
At the other end, Valletta threatened when Malano picked Romao at the edge of the area and his low drive was parried away by Jensen.
Utrecht looked to step up their game on the restart and on 49 minutes Sean Klaiber sped into the area and his low shot was blocked by Bonello with his feet.
The Dutch side were groing increasingly frustrated with their inability to break down the home defence and they vented their frustration in a series of niggling fouls that resulted in yellow cards to Hardeveld and Labyad.
On 68 minutes, Popovic effected his first change when he withdrew the tiring Romao and roped in Kyrian Nwoko and minutes later he introduced Jean Borg for Velasco as he looked to inject fresh energy in his team’s forward line. On 86 minutes Valletta protested for a penalty when they contended that Mifsud’s shot had hit the arm of Ayoub but the referee waved away their protests.
Utrecht tried to pile up the pressure late on but Valletta held on to a prestigious result to the delight of their fans.
Source: times of malta
VALLETTA 0 FC Utrecht 0
Second qualifying round First leg
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, S. Bonello, R. Camilleri, J.C Gill, S. Malano, M. Mifsud (88 R. Briffa), J. Zerafa, C. Pani, M. Velasco (72 J. Borg), U. Umeh, R. Romao (68 K. Nwoko).
FC UTRECHT – D. Jensen, M. van der Maarel, G. Kerk (87 B. Ould-Chikh), Y. Ayoub, S. Makienok, Z. Labyad, J. Hardeveld (80 U. Emanuelson), W. Janssen, S. Kaliber, S. Van der Streek, E. Braafheid.
Yellow cards: Romao, Hardeveld, Labyad, Mifsud, S. Borg, Pani.
Referee: Ognjen Valjic (Bosnia).
Competition: Europa League
Venue: Hibs Ground