Holders Luxol St. Andrews crashed out of the Gatorade Elite play-offs after being stifled by a brilliantly well-organised Valletta side and undone by a 4-1 semi-final, second leg defeat.
Valletta broke the deadlock on 32 minutes when Xavier Saliba, well served by Elamari netted the first goal from close range. One minute later, the Citizens’ captain headed home a Milijic exquisite cross to give a deserved 2-0 lead. Luxol were stunned and the Lilywhites took advantage as they netted their third goal when Melvin Borg, well-served by Cuadros Silva slotted into the net. Glenn Bonello reduced the arrears for Luxol a few minutes later to produce an intense finale. Despotovic opted for the flying keeper to instill more pressure on Valletta’s defence but in doing so they exposed their net with Jovica Milijic taking advantage to fire home and rubberstamp his team’s qualification.
Clayton Felice’s men comfortably contained their uncharacteristically limp opponents and their 9-7 aggregate victory eliminated the St Andrews side at the semi-final.
Meanwhile in the other semi-final, Hamrun broke little sweat in overcoming the feeble challenge of Lija Athletic 5-1 to qualify for next Friday’s final against Valletta.
There was never any doubt about the legitimacy of Hamrun’s victory as the Spartans were a cut above their opponents. On their part, Lija were a shadow of last week’s performance against the same opponents, when despite losing 7-5 they produced a bold reaction. The Spartans took the lead on 10 minutes when Brazilian Madson Caetano received a precise kick in by compatriot Michel Melo to blast at the top corner of the net and make it 1-0. Three minutes later, Hamrun doubled the lead when a delicious lob by Andy Mangion finished at the back of the net.
After a 2-0 advantage before the interval, Hamrun struck again on 23 minutes when Raphinha’s pass was met by Peter Pullicino who directed his shot into the net. Lija tried to regroup and managed to reduce the gap when Nicola del Re, who was acting as a flying keeper, found the net after a fierce shot. Despite this goal, the pattern of the game stayed the same with Hamrun bossing proceedings. Poor defensive play from the Athletics handed a lifeline to league top scorer Raphael Ortiz de Oliveira who scored a quick-fire brace as he stole possession on the edge of the area and hit the target twice to make a final 5-1 scoreline.
On the other hand, Sliema and Sirens booked a place in the Gatorade First Division play-off final after ousting their respective opponents, Mqabba and Zebbug.
Eslam Khalifa and Aleksandar Ribic inspired Sliema as they netted a brace while Paul Bugeja was also on the mark.
Mqabba’s goals came from a brace by Matthew Buttigieg, Ryan Mifsud and Darren Aitchinson.
Sirens also clinched a place in the final as they saw off Zebbug 6-2. Ryan Gilmour Cassar and George Chircop hit the target twice for Sirens as Jonathan Debono and Antoine Galea added their tally. Spanish duo Inigo Dolara and Anton Novoa Perez put their names on the score sheet for Zebbug who have officially ended their commitments for this season.