An early goal condemned Birkirkara to a 0-1 defeat to Albanian side KF Vllaznia Shkoder in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Hibernains Stadium on Thursday.
Buoyed by the early lead, Vllaznia were the better side in the opening minutes but the Stripes soon enjoyed the lion’s share in ball possession. However they were expected to push much more for the equaliser.
The game started with a cold shower for the Stripes as after just one minute and nineteen seconds, they were already trailing by one goal. Xheyahir Sukaj advanced on the left, rounding goalkeeper Jorge Mora and placed the ball at the back of the net with an angled shot.
Sukaj went close once again with a shot from outside the area on 18 minutes but this time Mora performed a good save. The Stripes now started to show some good football and Trevor Cilia tried his luck with a cross shot from the right which was neutralised by goalkeeper Miroslav Vujadinovic on 28 minutes.
Six minutes from the end of the first half, Birkirkara appealed for a penalty when Cilia was tackled inside the area but referee Rozados waved play on. On the other side of the pitch, an Abraham Alechenwu effort was turned into a corner by Mora. From the resulting corner by Gocaj, Sukaj headed wide.
Vllaznia went close to scoring a second goal on 58 minutes but Gocaj failed to connect off a most inviting pass by Sukaj from the right. The Stripes replied with an Angus Buhagiar cross shot from the right which was parried by Vujadinovic three minutes later.
From then onwards, the Stripes continued to hold the initiative for most of the time but shots at goal were rare – the best chance occurring in added time with an Alan Tabone freekick being neutralised by Vllaznia’s Montenegrin goalkeeper.
The second leg will be played at Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder on July 7, kick-off at 19:00. The winner of this two-legged clash will be meeting FC Thun of Switzerland in the second qualifying round.
Photos: Copyright © domenic aquilina
B’KARA Jorge Mora, Angus Buhagiar, Andre Agius, Marcis Savinovs, Andrew Decesare, Rowen Muscat (63′ Alan Tabone), Paul Fenech, Gareth Sciberras, Trevor Cilia, Jacopo Camilli (81′ David Da Silva), Joseph Zerafa (46’ Leighton Grech).
Subs not used: Karl Magri, Shaun Bajada, Andrew Scicluna, Terence Vella.
Coach: Patrick Curmi
Assistant Coach: Peter Pullicino
VLLAZNIA Miroslav Vujadinovic, Drijan Smajlaj, Blazo Rajovic, Arsen Sykaj, Bracan Popovic, Ilir Nallbani, Amarildo Berisha, Olsi Gocaj (89′ Edon Hasani), Abraham Alechenwu, Armando Vajushi (81′ Ndricim Shtubina), Xheyahir Sukaj (94′ Valdan Nimani).
Subs not used: Fabiol Rexhepi, Sadush Danaj, Aris Djepaxhia, Bekim Erkocevic.
Coach: Mirel Josa
Referee: Ignasi Villamayor Rozados (AND)
Assistant referees: Laudino Lopez (AND), Rui Miquel Maciel De Queiros (AND)
Fourth official: Hugo Ricardo Jourdan Pereira (AND)
Yellow Cards: Rajovic, Savinovs
Scorers: 2′ Xheyahir Sukaj