A penalty late in the first half and a goal deep in stoppage time handed HNK Hajduk Split a 2-0 win over Gzira United in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday.
A result which puts the Croatians as firm favourites to reach the next stage where they would be facing the winner of the clash between Ventspils of Latvia and Teuta of Albania.
New Gzira coach Giovanni Tedesco handed new recruits Arthur Henrique, Hamed Kone, Ridwaru Adeyemo and Jefferson their debut. Andrew Cohen and Amadou Samb were among the substitutes.
The Maroons managed to control their opponents well for long stretches and it seemed that the penalty had to make the whole difference before the visitors sealed the issue with a goal on the 96th minute.
After a quiet start for the two teams, Gzira went close through Ridwaru Adeyemo who headed high off a cross by Zach Scerri from the right on the 23rd minute. Six minutes later, a corner by Adam Gyurcso was partially saved by Haber with the ball being cleared into safety by a defender and in a swift counter-attack for Gzira, Hamed Kone concluded wide.
Bassel Jradi served Gyurcso from the right but the latter hit high on the 38th. Two minutes later, a volley by Stanko Juric following a clearance by Arthur Henrique ended just over the bar.
One minutes from the end of the first half, Hajduk managed to break the deadlock. The visitors were awarded a penalty after Arthur Henrique handled the ball inside the area following a cross by Adam Gyurcso; from the penalty spot, the latter saw his effort slightly deflected onto the foot of the upright but placed the ball at the back of the net off the rebound.
Four minutes in the second half, Hamed Kone missed a good chance for the Maroons, having his close range effort neutralised by Duka following a cross from the left. Seven minutes later, Nikolai Muscat’s effort from the edge of the area was parried by the Croatian goalkeeper. On the 75th minute, a goal for Gzira was disallowed for an offside.
One minute from time, Ivan Delic concluded a solo effort on the right with a powerful shot which however ended high.
However six minutes in added time, in a counter-attack, former Valletta midfielder Hamza Barry sent substitute Ivan Dolce through on the left and the latter managed to beat Haber with a powerful angled shot which the Gzira goalkeeper could only deflect with the ball ending at the back of the net.
The two teams face each other at the Stadion Poljud in Split on Thursday 18.
GZIRA Justin Haber, Fernando Barbosa, Gianmarco Conti (72′ Andrew Cohen), Nikolai Muscat (84′ Sacha Borg), Zachary Scerri, Rodolfo Soares, Juan Corbalan, Hamed Kone, Ridwaru Adeyemo (62′ Elvis Sakyi), Arthur Henrique Oyama Ricciardi, Jefferson Mateus de Assis Estacio.
HAJDUK Tomislav Duka, Hamza Barry, Darko Nejasmic, Adam Gyurcso (67′ Francesco Tahiraj), Oleksandr Svatok (75′ Stefan Simic), Ivan Delic, Jairo, Stanko Juric, Domagoj Bradaric (61′ Ivan Dolcek), Ardian Ismajli, Bassel Jradi.
Referee: Gal Leibovitz (ISR)
Assistant Referees: Tom Adi, Moshe Bohbot (ISR)
Fourth Official: Shalom Ben Avraham (ISR)