A goal by Yannick Yankam handed Birkirkara a narrow win over La Fiorita of San Marino in the first leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday.
Birkirkara were clearly a better side but after taking an early lead, they looked quite happy with the slender lead and failed to show the same enthusiasm as in the early stages.
Coach Andre Paus named goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes in the starting line-up along with Ryan Scicluna and Johann Bezzina who are back with the club. Another new signing, Diego Venancio, was included as a substitute.
Birkirkara went in search of an early goal and after just 27 seconds, Yankam served Falcone whose attempt was deflected into a corner. From the resulting corner by Bezzina, Falcone’s header hit upright.
The Stripes forged ahead on the 14th minute courtesy of Yannick Yankam who slotted the ball from close range past goalkeeper Gianluca Vivan when served by Falcone.
La Fiorita went close with a header by Danilo Rinaldi which just missed the target on the 42nd minute but in added time, Luke Montebello had an attempt which was neutralised by goalkeeper Vivan.
Five minutes in the second half, Luke Montebello received an assist on the right but his attempt was neutralised by the goalkeeper. On the 63rd, Diego Venancio served Luke Montebello whose first time effort was blocked by the La Fiorita goalkeeper. A freekick by Diego Venancio five minutes later ended just over the bar.
Ten minutes from time, goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes came to the rescue with a great save on a Tommaso Guidi effort from the right, turning the ball into a corner. Fernandes tipped the ball from the resulting corner by Ramiro Martin Lago into another corner.
The second leg will be played on Thursday 15 at the San Marino Stadium, kick-off at 20:45.
If successful, Birkirkara would face Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia in the second qualifying round of the competition.
B’KARA Daniel Fernandes, Enrico Pepe, Yannick Yankam, Luke Montebello, Roderick Briffa, Kurt Zammit, Federico Falcone, Ryan Scicluna (59′ Diego Venancio), Cain Attard, Oscar Carniello, Johann Bezzina (65′ Claudio Bonanni).
LA FIORITA Gianluca Vivan, Andrea Brighi, Ivan Pedrelli, Roberto Di Maio, Matteo Prandelli, Simone Errico (78′ Riccardo Zulli), Andrea Grandoni, Danilo Rinaldi (65′ Simone Loiodice), Marco Gasperoni (6’ Ramiro Martin Lago), Armando Amati (65′ Tommaso Guidi), Marcello Mularoni (78′ Giordan Bardeggia).
Referee: Nikolas Neokleous (CYP)
Assistant Referees: Pavlos Georgiou, Petros Petrou (CYP)
Fourth Official: Chrysovantis Theouli (CYP)