Maribor leave it till late to beat Birkirkara and reach next round

NK Maribor came from behind to beat Birkirkara 2-1 in the second leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round in scorching heat at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday to secure a place in the second qualifying round of the competition where they will be facing FC Differdange 03 of Luxembourg. The Slovenians advance with a 3-2 aggregate score.

Coach Giovanni Tedesco, who was unable to lead the team from the banch after being sent off during the first leg, opted to name an unchanged line-up following the 1-1 draw in Maribor last week.

The Stripes held the initiative in the early stages, keeping their opponents under constant pressure They managed to take the lead on the 19th minute. Paul Mbong sent Andrei Ciolacu through but a defender handled the latter’s effort. Referee Martin Dohal ordered a penalty and Yannick Yankam converted from the penalty spot.

Maribor replied with a cross from the right by Milec but Kolar failed to connect from close range on 28 minutes.

In the second half, Maribor were the better side pushing Birkirkara into their half-pitch.

Birkirkara goalkeeper Marcel Zapytowski performed a good save on an angled shot by Ivan Brnic from the left six minutes in the second half and on the 63rd minute a cross by Itsuki Urata was deflected into a corner. Three minutes later, the Birkirkara goalkeeper blocked a corner by Brnic from the left.

A freekick from outside the area by Jakupovic was neutralised by Zapytowski on the 76th minute.

Maribor levelled matters ten minutes from time when off a cross by Ivan Brnic, Arnel Jakupovic slotted the ball past the Birkirkara custodian from close range.

Birkirkara replied with a powerful drive by Simon Zibo which was partially saved by the Maribor goalkeeper on 82 minutes.

Two mintues from time, Maribor forged ahead when substitute Xhuliano Skuka concluded a good run on the right flank by entering the area and rounding the goalkeeper before placing the ball at the back of the net.

Deep in stoppage time, Alessandro Coppola had an excellent opportunity to notch the equaliser and force extra-time but incredibly miskicked the ball.

B’KARA Marcel Zapytowski, Jovan Pajovic, Enrico Pepe, Yannick Yankam (86’ Omar Elouni), Paul Mbong (56’ Kurt Zammit), Enmy Pena, Neil Micallef (90+4’ Jed Valletta), Alessandro Coppola, Simon Zibo, Denis Ribeiro (56’ Italo Montano), Andrei Ciolacu (86’ Weverton Gomes).

MARIBOR Azbe Jug, Ivan Brnic, Marko Bozic (46’ Marin Lausic), Itsuki Urata (81’ Mark Strajnar), Jan Repas (90+2’ Blaz Vrhovec), Max Watson, Martin Milec, Luka Uskovic, Marko Kolar, Ishaq Rafiu (46’ Amel Jakupovic), Marcel Lorber (63’ Xhuliano Skuka).

Referee: Martin Dohal SVK
Assistant Referee: Adam Jekkel, Frantisek Ferenc SVK
Fourth Official: Kristian Michel SVK