Goalkeeper Nicky Vella saved a penalty for ten-man Valletta as they suffered a narrow 0-1 defeat to FK Qarabagh of Azerbaijan in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round at the National Stadium on Tuesday.
As expected, the Azerbaijan champions were a stronger side but Valletta did their best to limit the damages although to reach the next stage they need to win in Baku.
Apart from Gilbert Agius who was making his official debut as Valletta coach, the Citizens had Nicky Vella, Ryan Camilleri and Hugo Faria making their first appearance. Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna as included as a substitute midway through the second half.
The visitors managed to take the lead on the 17th minute thanks to a direct freekick by Cicero da Silva Marinaldo ‘Chumbinho’ which gave goalkeeper Nicky Vella no chance.
Chunbinho released Reynaldo on the right a few minutes later but the latter’s effort was blocked by Jonathan Caruana. On the half hour, Ansi Agolli was unlucky to hit the crossbar with a shot from outside the area. Valletta replied with a swift counter-attack in which Fenech served Briffa whose conclusion ended high on 37 minutes.
Qarabagh continued to hold the initiative and twenty minutes in the second half, Nicky Vella turned into a corner a fine effort by Leroy George. Following a good run on the left, Reynaldo had a shot blocked by the Valletta goalkeeper on the 75th.
Six minutes from time, the Citizens were reduced to ten men after Ryan Camilleri was sent off for tackling an opponent from behind. The referee ordered a penalty but Richard’s effort from the penalty spot was neutralised by Vella.
Deep into stoppage time, it was Nicky Vella once again who came to the rescue with a good save on Reynaldo at point blank.
VALLETTA Nicky Vella, Jonathan Caruana, Ian Azzopardi, Ryan Camilleri, Ryan Fenech, Hugo Faria, Roderick Briffa, Shaun Bajada (92′ Siraj Arab Eddin), Lateef Elford-Alliyu (72′ Raphael Alain Kooh Sohna), Abdelkarim Nafti (85′ Ian Zammit), Luke Dimech.
QARABAGH Ibrahim Sehic, Gara Garayev (79′ Namig Yusifov), Reynaldo Silva dos Santos, Muarem Muarem (71′ Leandro Danilo Dias), Ilgar Gurbanov, Richard Almeida de Oliveira, Admir Teli, Ansi Agolli, Giovanni George Leroy Marten (87′ Vugar Nadirov), Badavi Guseynov, Cicero da Silva Marinaldo.
Coach: Adrien Jaccottet (SWI)