Malta Football Association
Unlucky Valletta bow out of Champions League qualifiers
Jul 17, 2018
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Photos: Domenic Aquilina/MFA
Photos: Domenic Aquilina/MFA

  • Photos: Domenic Aquilina/MFA
  • Photos: Domenic Aquilina/MFA
  • Photos: Domenic Aquilina/MFA

UEFA Champions League

First Qualifying Round, 2nd leg
Centenary Stadium, Ta’ Qali

VALLETTA       1
FK KUKESI      1
(HT 0-0)

(First leg 0-0; Kukesi advance on away goals)

A late goal ended Valletta's participation in this season's Champions League as Albanian side FK Kukesi advanced on the away goals rule, 1-1 on aggregate, following a goalless draw in the first leg last week. Valletta's exit from Europe's top competition was undeserved as they were the better team in the home match. Their chances looked bright after Santiago Malano put them ahead early in the second half but they ultimately paid the price for conceding a late goal.

Valletta coach Danilo Doncic fielded exactly the same 11 players as in their goalless draw in Albania, including Italian forward Mario Fontanella, the only newcomer in the Citizens’ team. The other signing, Romanian Bogdan Gavrila, started on the bench.


The strong winds affected play considerably during the whole match.


It was Valletta who attacked in the direction of the wind in the first half.


The Maltese champions created some opportunities during the first 25 minutes, including some dangerous corners, but hardly tested Kukesi goalkeeper Stivi Frasheri.


The best chances fell to Oman international midfielder Ibrahim Saleh and Argentine winger Miguel Alba but their efforts from inside the penalty area were blocked.


Five minutes before half-time, defender Steve Borg came close to opening the scoring after connecting with a free-kick from Rowen Muscat but his effort was flagged offside.


It was Valletta all the way in the first half.


Santiago Malano’s shot from just outside the box was stopped by Frasheri on 42 minutes as Valletta failed to capitalise on their first-half supremacy.


Valletta continued to keep the Kukesi rearguard busy after the change of ends with Italian forward Matteo Piciollo having a great opportunity in the 54th minute.


Racing on to a through-pass by Malano, Piciollo miscued his shot.


The first real threat by Kukesi arrived in the 62nd minute. They were awarded an indirect free-kick inside the box after goalkeeper Henry Bonello was adjudged to have handled Joseph Zerafa’s back-pass. However, Arber Cyrbja was wide.


Valletta forged ahead midway into second half. Zerafa’s accurate pass set up Santiago Malano who scored a fine goal with a first-time volley from just outside the box, giving Frasheri no chance.


A much-deserved lead for the Maltese champions who threatened again but Ryan Camilleri's rising shot was high. Against the run of play, Kukesi equalised.


With seven minutes on the clock, Bonello pushed away a strong shot but the ball rolled into the path of Irakli Dzaria who tapped home at the far post.


Valletta now had to press forward in search of a winner but time was against them.


Doncic brought on two strikers, Kyrian Nwoko and new recruit Gavrila. Five minutes of added time were given but Valletta were unable to find a second goal as Kukesi advanced to the next round of the Champions League despite finishing the match with 10 men following the dismissal of Zguro for two bookings.


Nevertheless, Valletta now play in the second qualifying round of the Europa League against the losers of the match Spartak Trnava (Slovakia) and Zrinjski (Bosnia & Herzegovina).


H. Bonello, J. Zerafa, (K. Nwoko 87), R. Camilleri, S. Borg, E.M. Pena Beltre, R. Muscat, M. Alba, (B, Gavrila 90), S. Malano, R.I. Saleh, (J. Cruz 82), M. Picciolo, M. Fontanella.


S. Frasheri, A. Alla, Y. Shameti, W. Cordeiro Melo, S. Rumbullaku, I. Dzaria, D. Skhodra, (H. Harba 57), B. Musoli, V. Zguro, (D. Spehar 57), A. Cyrbja (V. Ethemi 65), S. Plaku.


Referee: Igor Pajic (Croatia)


Attendence: 1,307


Yellow cards: Zerafa, Alba (V), Zguro, Shameti (K)


Red card: Zguro (K).

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