Neftçi PFK scored a goal early in the first half and added another late in the game to register a 2-0 win over Balzan in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Thursday.
The team from Baku, Azerbaijan were a better side during the first half, sharing the exchanges with the locals after the break. This win puts them close to securing a place in the second qualifying round where they will be facing KF Shkendija of FYR Macedonia or MKS Cracovia Kraków of Poland.
Having the full squad at his disposal apart from the injured Ryan Fenech, Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri named new signings Bruno Giglio de Oliveira, Anderson Francisco de Barros and Borče Manevski in the starting line-up.
The first half lacked goal-mouth action but the visitors managed to take the lead on the 14th minute when Rahman Hajiyev managed to beat goalkeeper Ivan Janjusevic with a direct freekick from the left.
Balzan improved after the break and nine minutes in the second half, they went close to equalising with a powerful shot from the left by Borče Manevski which as partially saved by goalkeeper Santini. In a swift counter attack two minutes later, Araz Abdullayev concluded a good run with a low shot which was parried by Janjusevic.
On the 65th, following a cross from the right, deflected by Serrano, Steve Bezzina’s effort was turned into a corner by the goalkeeper. Another powerful drive by Bezzina from the left scraped past the post. Paul Fenech sent Bojan Kaljevic through on the 71st minute but after controlling the ball his low shot was cleared off the goal line by a defender.
Seven minutes from time, Neftçi doubled the score when they were awarded a penalty after Alesha’s Abdullayev was adjusted to have been floored inside the penalty area. From the penalty spot, Ruslan Gurbanov converted.
The return match will be played at the Bakcell Arena in Baku on Thursday.
BALZAN Ivan Janjusevic, Paul Fenech, Borce Manevski (65′ Lydon Micallef), Dylan Grima (81′ Samir Arab), Steve Bezzina, Clive Brincat (74′ Justin Grioli), Alfred Effiong, Anderson Francisco de Barros, Elkin Orlando Serrano Valero, Bruno Giglio De Oliveira, Bojan Kaljevic.
NEFTÇI Krševan Santini, Jairo Rodrigues Peixoto Filho, Araz Abdullayev (80′ Fahmin Muradbayli), Ruslan Gurbanov, Murad Agayev, Rahman Hajiyev (75′ Javid Imamverdiyev), Vanche Shikov, Magsad Isayev, Dario Melnjak, Edson Daniel Castillo Garcia (92′ Rahil Mammadov).
Referee: Jovan Kaludjerović (MNE)
Assistant referees: Danijel Dević, Vladan Todorović (MNE)
Fourth official: Mileta Šćepanović (MNE)