A goal by Ryan Fenech towards the end of the first half maintained alive hopes of qualifying for the next round as the first leg of the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round clash with FC Minsk at the National Stadium ended in a 1-1 draw.
Despite suffering an early goal against a strong team which was physically in a better condition considering that the league campaign in Belarus is half-way through, the Citizens soon gained composure and had their fair share of scoring opportunities, managing to extend their positive run in Europe with a draw.
Coach Mark Miller handed a place in the starting line-up to Spanish striker Arnal Llibert Conde who was making his debut. He was replaced by Aud-Gustine Obaje early in the second half.
Valletta received a cold shower after just five minutes when Aliaksandr Sachyvka surprised Pietro Marino with a freekick from the left to put FC Minsk ahead.
Photos (above and gallery): Copyright © domenic aquilina
The Citizens replied with a curved shot by Denni, served by Barry, from outside the area which ended wide on the 10th. A minute later, Behvnou’s first-time effort just missed the target following an inviting cross by Bialevich from the left. Denni concluded a good move on the right with a diagonal shot which was neutralised by goalkeeper Bushma on the 14th.
The visitors went close to doubling the score through Makas on the 23rd but his attempt from close range scraped past the post. On the half hour, a freekick by Shaun Bajada was parried by Bushma.
Valletta levelled matters one minute from half-time thanks to Ryan Fenech who slotted the ball past the Minsk goalkeeper from inside the area after a defensive blunder by Sachyvka who slipped paving the way for the Valletta captain.
Nine minutes in the second half, Bialevich had a powerful shot from the left blocked by a defender. In a swift counter attack for Valletta, Roderick Briffa’s long-distance shot ended just wide a minute later.
Photos (below): Copyright © Joe Borg
FC Minsk threatened the City rear-guard once again on 67 minutes with a diagonal shot by Kibuk from the right. A minute later, it was the turn of Vasiliuk to try his luck with a diagonal shot from the left hitting the foot of the upright.
A fierce shot by Ryan Fenech scraped past the post on the 80th. A shot from the edge of the area by Rozhok was deflected into a corner by Marino two minutes later.
In added time, Aud-Gustine Obaje served Ian Zammit on the left and the latter’s effort, after rounding a defender, just missed the target.
The second leg will be played in a week’s time in Minsk.
VALLETTA Pietro Marino, Yessous Camilleri, Jason Vandelannoite, Luke Dimech, Dyson Falzon, Ryan Fenech (90′ Ryan Fenech), Roderick Briffa, Hamza Barry, Arnal Llibert Conde Carbo (59′ Aud-Gustine Obaje), Denni Rocha dos Santos, Shaun Bajada (70′ Jonathan Caruana).
MINSK Vladzimir Bushma, Raman Behunou, Slarhei Sasnouski, Aliaksandr Sviarchynski, Siarhei Kazeka, Raman Vasiliuk, Aliaksandar Sachyvka, Dmitry Gorbushin (46′ Sergiy Rozhok), Aliaksei Bialevich (75′ Yury Asiraukh), Aliaksandar Makas (55′ Vital Kibuk), Milos Rnic.
Referee: Oliver Drachta (AUT)
Assistant referees: Roland Brandner (AUT), Matthias Winsauer (AUT)
Fourth official: Dieter Muckenhammer (AUT)
Yellow Cards: Bialevich, Barry, Rozhok, Asiraukh, Rnic