Champions Valletta secured a place in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League as they came from behind to beat Sammarinese champions SP Tre Fiori 2-1 at the Hibernians Stadium for a 5-1 aggregate win.
Next Tuesday, Valletta will host Lithuanian champions FK Ekranas in the first leg at the Hibernians Stadium, kick-off at 19:30. The second leg will be played on Tuesday 19.
Although the Citizens went out in search of an early goal, putting their opponents under pressure, Tre Fiori soon started to gain confidence, especially after taking the lead, defending well for the rest of the first half. After the break, Valletta showed greater determination and after levelling matters, they held the initiative going close to scoring on various occasions before finally notching the winner.
Coach Jesmond Zerafa rested Roderick Briffa and Jonathan Caruana after they had collected a yellow card in the first leg. Kenneth Scicluna, Ousseni Zongo, Gilbert Agius and Ian Zammit were drafted in the starting line-up as Ryan Fenech and William Barbosa also started the game on the bench. Unavailable for selection were Ramon Dos Santos, Terence Scerri and the suspended Ian Azzopardi.
The Citizens made their intentions clear right from the start, going close with a Denni close-range effort when released on the left by Alfred Effiong but goalkeeper Gianluca Cola turned the ball into a corner after just one minute.
A good move between Alfred Effiong and Ian Zammit on the 7th minute ended with a save by the Sammarinese goalkeeper. Two minutes later, Zammit went close following another good move between Effiong, and Denni. On 16 minutes, Denni concluded a fine run on the left flank by rounding the goalkeeper and a defender but his cross was not met by any of his colleagues.
On the 20th, Tre Fiori were awarded a penalty after Kenneth Scicluna brought Alessandro Giunta down inside the area. From the penalty spot, Altin Lisi made no mistake to put the visitors ahead.
Eight minutes from the end of the first half, the Citizens went close to equalising with a great move between Denni and Alfred Effiong inside the area. However the former’s shot was blocked by the Sammarinese goalkeeper with the Brazilian striker sustaining an injury in the process and having to leave the pitch injured.
Substitute Ryan Fenech was soon prominent with an inviting cross from the left on 42 minutes but Matteo Andreini managed to clear the ball into safety. Three minutes later, Cola performed a fine save on a cross shot fro the right by Edmond Agius. In added time, Zammit released Fenech on the left but of the latter’s cross Zongo failed to connect.
Four minutes in the second half, Jamie Pace tested Gianluca Cola with a powerful shot from outside the area but his shot was partially saved by the goalkeeper. After another cross shot by Ryan Fenech was cleared by a defender, Dyson Falzon had a long-distance shot from the left ending wide.
Valletta finally managed to equalise on 58 minutes when Ian Zammit was floored inside the area by Matteo Vendemini. Referee Bardhyl Pashaj handed the second yellow card to the Sammarinese defender, therefore sending him off, and ordered a penalty. Ian Zammit made no mistake to make it 1-1.
Substitute William Barbosa was determined to leave his mark and after having a header neutralised by Cola following a cross from the right by Zammit, on 62 minutes, he hit the crossbar with a fine header off a cross by Effiong. Valletta went close once again two minutes later with a shot by Ryan Fenech from the left which however ended high.
Jamie Pace missed a good opportunity for Valletta on 67 minutes when William Barbosa sent Alfred Effiong through and off the latter’s pass, the Malta midfielder hit wide from an ideal position inside the area. A powerful drive by William Barbosa scraped past the post six minutes later.
On 81 minutes, the Tre Fiori goalkeeper performed a great save on a direct freekick by Gilbert Agius, turning the ball into a corner and from the resulting corner by Ian Zammit, Jamie Pace’s header hit the posts and William Barbosa’s effort was blocked on the goal line by a defender. Ryan Fenech then missed a good opportunity hitting high from the edge of the area.
Two minutes from time, Valletta notched the winner when off a cross by Edmond Agius from the right, William Barbosa da Silva controlled the ball beating Cola with a fine rising shot.
In added time, the Citizens could have increased the lead further, first when Ian Zammit just failed to connect off a Kevin Sammut pass from the left and then William Barbosa hit high when served inside the area.
Photos: Copyright © domenic aquilina
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VALLETTA Andrew Hogg, Edmond Agius, Steve Borg, Kenneth Scicluna, Dyson Falzon, Gilbert Agius, Jamie Pace, Denni Rocha Dos Santos (41’ Ryan Fenech), Ian Zammit, Ousseni Zongo (59’ William Barbosa), Alfred Effiong (77’ Kevin Sammut).
Subs not used: Yenz Cini, Roderick Briffa, Jonathan Caruana, Cleavon Frendo.
Coach: Leonard Farrugia
Assistant Coach: Jesmond Zerafa
TRE FIORI Gianluca Cola, Matteo Andreini, Maximiliano Baizan, Nicola Canarezza (79′ Simone Grana), Altim Lisi, Michael Simoncini, Fabio Vannoni, Matteo Vendemini, Federico Amici (65’ Gerhard Zenunay), Alessandro Giunta (92′ Francesco Stolfi), Nicolo Grini.
Subs not used: Mauro Bentozzi, Donald Zenunay, Alessio Ballanti, Federico Macina.
Coach: Paolo Tarini
Referee: Bardhyl Pashaj (ALB)
Assistant referees: Proletar Puto (ALB), Ermal Barushi (ALB)
Fourth official: Emirion Sino (ALB)
Yellow Cards: Simoncini, Vendemini, William Barbosa, Andreini
Red Cards: 58’ Vendemini
Scorers: 21’ Altin Lisi (pen)(TF); 58’ Ian Zammit (V); 88′ William Barbosa (V)