West Ham United secured a place in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after defeating Birkirkara on penalties. In front of 15,257 spectators at the National Stadium, a goal by Fabrizio Miccoli had enabled the Stripes to cancel West Ham’s narrow lead after the first leg but with no other goals being scored, penalties had to determine which team qualifies for the next stage.
West Ham will be meeting FC Astra Giurgiu of Romania in the next round after the latter drew 0-0 at home on Thursday with Inverness Caledonian Thistle following a 1-0 win away from home last week.
Although the visitors had more ball-possession, the Stripes created the better chances throughout the one hundred and twenty minutes. Birkirkara played better football than they did in the first leg and never looked inferior to the Barclays Premier League side. It was a pity they had to exit the competition after losing the penalty shoot-out when they were so close to making history by becoming the first Maltese team to progress to a third round of a European competition.
Birkirkara coach Giovanni Tedesco made one change to the team which lost narrowly at Upton Park as new signing Marcelina Emerson was named in the starting line-up with Edin Murga being retained on the bench.
The locals held the initiative in the early stages and a long-distance freekick by Miccoli on the 8th minute was missed by Collins but O’Brien cleared the ball into safety. The Hammers replied with a Mark Noble corner from the right with Matthew Jarvis’ low shot from the edge of the area parried by Haber.
The Stripes forged ahead on the 15th minute when off a good run on the right flank, Liliu served Fabrizio Miccoli who slotted the ball home from close range.
Just before half-time, West Ham were reduced to ten men after James Tomkins was sent off by the Albanian referee for hitting Nikola Vukanac. In added time, Marcelina Emerson went close with a shot from outside the area when served by Liliu but Adrian performed a good save.
Matthew Jarvis went close for the Hammers on the 70th minute with an angled shot from the right but Haber palmed the ball out. Five minutes from time, Paul Fenech tried his luck with a long-distance shot which was parried by the West Ham goalkeeper.
Five minutes in the first half of extra-time, Vito Plut concluded a good move with a week shot which was neutralised by Adrian.
In the third minute of the second half of extra-time, Birkirkara were also reduced to ten men after Mauricio Mazzetti received a second yellow card for passing remarks to the referee.
In a swift counter-attack for the Stripes on the 110th minute, Zammit released Edmond Agius on the left but the latter’s curved shot was parried by Adrian.
With the score still 1-0, and with an aggregate score of 1-1, the penalty shoot-out had to decide the issue.
Mark Noble scored the first penalty for West Ham, Paul Fenech scored for Birkirkara, Mauro Zarate scored, Vito Plut converted for the Stripes, Aaron Creswell scored but Nikola Vukanac hit incredibly high.
Joseph O’Brien placed the ball in the top right corner, Edmond Agius converted and Diego Poyet scored the final penalty to put West Ham into the next round.
B’KARA Justin Haber, Emerson Marcelina (95′ Kurt Zammit), Mauricio Matias Latini Mazzetti, Paul Fenech, Ryan Camenzuli, Fabrizio Miccoli (77′ Vito Plut), Nikola Vukanac, Ellinton Antonio Costa Morais, Joseph Zerafa, Zach Muscat, Rowen Muscat (70′ Edmond Agius).
WEST HAM Adrian, Aaron Creswell, Kevin Nolan (59′ Diego Poyet), James Tomkins, Matthew Jarvis (120′ Martin Samuelsen), Cheikhou Kouyate, Mauro Zarate, Mark Noble, Joseph O’Brien, James Collins, Morgan Amalfitano (59′ Modibo Maiga).
Referee: Enea Jorgji (ALB)
Assistant referees: Ridiger Çokaj (ALB), Astrit Mahmuti (ALB)
Fourth official: Kridens Meta (ALB)
Yellow Cards: Miccoli, Noble, Vukanac, Mazzetti, Collins, Agius
Red Card: 45′ Tomkins, 108′ Mazzetti