Valletta vs FK Kukesi
A late goal by Irakli Dzaria eight minutes from time shattered Valletta’s dreams of reaching the second qualifying round of the Champions League as the Citizens were held to a 1-1 draw by Albania’s Kukesi to crash out of the competition on the away goals’ rule.
A goalless draw in last week’s first leg in Albania had raised hopes among the Valletta clan that they could knock out Kukes with a win at the Centenary Stadium, yesterday.
With just less than nine minutes to go, Valletta looked on course to reach their goal when Santiago Malano’s stunning strike had given them a deserved lead.
However, their aspirations were all but ended with Dzaria’s equaliser against the run of play that condemned them to a heartbreaking exit.
Still, Valletta had a lot of positives to take from yesterday’s match as despite facing a team of a higher profile they still managed to impose their attacking philosophy and will hope now for better fortunes when they play in the second qualifying round of the Europa League where they will face either Spartak Trnava of Slovakia or Bosnia’s Zrinjski Mostar.
Valletta coach Danilo Doncic kept faith with the same 11 players that started the opening leg in Albania last week, with new signing Bogdan Gavrila, the Romanian winger, included among the substitutes.
The first half was conditioned by the strong winds that blew at the Centenary Stadium.
Valletta, with the winds blowing behind their backs, pegged the Albanians into their own half for most of the first half but could not find a breakthrough.
After only five minutes Matteo Piciollo had a great opportunity when he latched onto Miguel Alba’s delivery from a corner but the Italian sent his firm header over from a few metres out.
Valletta continued to dominate proceedings but despite the welter share of possession they rarely troubled Stivi Frasheri, in the Kukes goal.
Instead it was the Albanians who almost struck on 26 minutes. Vang jel Zguro’s swerving cross from a free-kick created havoc in the City but luckily Joseph Zerafa was on hand to clear the danger.
Valletta finally threatened 11 minutes from the break when Malano nodded the ball into the path of Piciollo who fired over.
Five minutes later, it was Malano who came close when his cross-shot almost surprised Frasheri with the ball just missing the upright.
The Argentine midfielder again threatened three minutes from the break when he connected to Alba’s cross but his volley flew just wide.
On the restart, Valletta kept the initiative and on 53 minutes Malano picked Fontanella who quickly returned the ball to the Argentine who fired wide.
Shy of the hour, Valletta goalkeeper Henry Bonello conceded a free-kick inside the area after he picked up a pass from Zerafa. But Arber Cyrbia hit over at the second attempt after his first shot was blocked by Steve Borg.
City’s pressure was finally rewarded with a breakthrough on 67 minutes.
Zerafa powered his way inside the area and he picked Malano on the edge of the area who fired a rasping volley in the bottom corner of the net.
The Albanians were stunned and they tried to mount a late rally but the Valletta defence stood firm.
Instead it was the hosts who came close to a second but Ryan Camilleri’s shot finished just over.
Still, Valletta’s dreams were shattered eight minutes from time when Bonello could only parry away Rumbullaku’s low drive and in came Dzaria to stab the ball home.
Source: times of malta
VALLETTA 1 FK Kukesi 1
First qualifying round second leg
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, S. Borg, R. Camilleri, S. Malano, M. Piciollo, E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa (86 K. Nwoko), R. Saleh (82 J.C. Gill), R. Muscat, M. Alba (89 B. Gavrila), M. Fontanella.
FK KUKESI- S. Frasheri, Y. Shameti, A. Alla, V. Zguro (56 D. Spehar), S. Plaku, D. Shkodra (56 D. Harba), A. Cyrbja (65 V. Ethemi), S. Rumbullaku, B. Musolli, W. Cordeiro Melo, I. Dzaria.
Yellow cards: Zerafa, Zguro, Alba, Rumbullaku, Shameti.
Scorers: 66′ Malano, 86′ Dzaria
Referee: Igor Pajac (Croatia FA).
Competition: Champions League
Venue: Centenary Stadium
Valletta vs HSK Zrinjski
Ten-man Zrinjski hit two well taken goals to shatter Valletta’s European dream for another season as the Bosnians secured a 2-1 win that sealed a 3-2 aggregate win.
The Malta champions always knew that they had a tough task to knock out their more-quoted opponents given the superior pedigree of the Bosnian chances.
However, their lively showing in last week’s first leg in Mostar had raised the spirits in the City clan.
Danilo Doncic’s men shared the exchanges with their opponents but for the umpteenth time their failure to take the chances that came their way came back to haunt them.
In the first half, Valletta created a number of opportunities but it was Zrinjski who struck with their first shot on target.
Valletta rallied in the second half and a red card to Marin Galic was quickly followed by Steve Borg’s equaliser and the hopes of a City qualification looked well a possibility.
But yet again a lapse in concentration cost the City dear as Zrinjski struck the winner with just more than 20 minutes left to seal their place in the next round where they face Bulgarian champions Ludogorets.
Doncic, the Valletta coach, effected one change to the team that drew the first leg in Mostar last week as Romanian winger Bogdan Gavrila made his first start for the Citizens when he started ahead of Kyrian Nwoko who had to settle with a place on the bench.
It was no surprise that it was the Bosnian champions who ran the proceedings in the early stages as they sought a goal that would give them control of the tie.
After eight minutes, Milos Filipovic received the ball from a short corner and after moving past his marker he let fly a dipping drive that just missed the upright.
Valletta responded on 14 minutes when Santiago Malano picked Matteo Piciollo inside the area and the Italian striker elected to shoot but his effort was blocked by goalkeeper Antonio Soldo who was replacing the injured Ivan Brkic.
The Citizens had an even better chance on 23 minutes when Rowen Muscat chipped the ball into the path of Alba who with only Soldo to beat saw his lob finish over the bar.
The Maltese side paid heavy for their profligacy in front of goal as Zrinjski took the lead on the half hour.
Hrvoje Barisic picked up possession some 30 metres out and hit a curling drive that gave no chance to a stranded Bonello.
Barely two minutes later Valletta should have pulled themselves level.
Malano’s throughball sent Mario Fontanella clear but the former Floriana striker saw his low shot blocked by the onrushing Soldo.
Valletta continued to work their way into the match and two minutes from the break, Joseph Zerafa released Piciollo inside the area but the Italian striker saw his shot just miss the upright.
In stoppage time, Gavrila moved past two opponents before setting up Alba who fired over.
Valletta started the second half brightly and on 48 minutes, Rowen Muscat’s shot was blocked and from the rebound Malano’s low drive was well saved by Soldo.
A minute later, City’s hopes were boosted when Galic, who was already booked, received his second yellow card after elbowing Piciollo.
Valletta took little time to make the most of their numerical advantage as on 57 minutes they drew level.
The Zrinjski defence were caught by Gavrila’s cross and in came Steve Borg who stabbed the ball into the net to restore parity into the tie.
But their joy was shortlived as eight minutes later the visitors were back in front.
Semir Pezer fed Milos Filipovic who hit a low drive that completely wrong footed Bonello.
The goal hit hard the Citizens who almost conceded a third nine minutes from time.
Filipovic ran through the defence and with only Bonello to beat he fired wide.
Source: times of malta
VALLETTA 1 HSK ZRINJSKI 2
Second qualifying round second leg
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, S. Borg (80 J.C. Gill), R. Camilleri, S. Malano (87 J. Borg), M. Piciollo, J. Zerafa, R. Saleh, R. Muscat, M. Alba, B. Gavrila (70 K. Nwoko), M. Fontanella.
HSK ZRINJSKI- A. Soldo, M. Galic, H. Barisic, S. Pezer, P. Stojkic (46 A. Kadusic), O. Todorovic, M. Perisic (52 N. Lastro), S. Jakovljevic, E. Rustemovic, M. Filipovic (89 T. Jovic), N. Biblija.
Yellow cards: Galic, Jakovljevic, Alba, Borg.
Red card: Galic (Z) 49.
Scorers: 58′ Borg, 30′ Barisic, 66′ Filipovic.
Referee: Rade Obrenovic (Slovenia).
Competition: Europa League
Venue: Centenary Stadium