Malta Football Association
Promising start for San Gwann, Tarxien and Naxxar
Sep 15, 2021
Posted in:
BOV Challenge League
(c) Stephen Gatt
(c) Stephen Gatt

The 2021/22 BOV Challenge League kicked off last weekend with a record number of participants, 22 teams, who are split into two groups. In Group A, Naxxar Lions, San Gwann and Pembroke departed well with convincing wins, while in Group B, Tarxien trashed Senglea with a very impressive display. 

Group A

The Lions had a roaring start hitting five goals past ten-man Mqabba in a one-sided affair. The team of coach George Vella had a brilliant start, immediately showing their sharpness in the final meters of their attack with Brazilian striker Gilberto Carrara in splendid form. On seven minutes Naxxar broke the deadlock with a Steve Meilak header following a corner action. Gilberto Carrara doubled the score on 16 minutes with a precise lob that gave Mqabba goalkeeper Craig Abdilla no chance. Two minutes later the Mqabba defence was caught on the wrong foot once more and Gilberto Carrarra added his second of the afternoon, making no mistake all alone in front of goal. On 24 minutes, Mqabba defender Jeremy Busuttil received a second booking and their slim hopes of a recovery faded out completely. Early in the second half Naxxar scored a fourth when new recruit Samuel Saldanha rounded off the goalkeeper before putting at the back of the net and on 57 minutes the same player obtained his brace following another fast break from Naxxar. An impressive start for the Lions.

San Gwann got off to a good start as well, easily beating St. George’s by four clear goals, with Andrea Zammit, Sjaak Kuyper and new recruit Skender Loshi in splendid form. After a balanced start San Gwann broke the deadlock on 34 minutes when Zammit passed towards Kuyper who in front of goalkeeper Karl Magri made no mistake. Ten minutes into the second half San Gwann doubled the score when Andrea Zammit passed towards Loshi who brilliantly rounded off two defenders and the goalkeeper before putting at the back of the net. Four minutes later San Gwann put the issue beyond doubt when Zammit again was devastating on the right and crossed towards Loshi who shot low into the corner of the net. Fifteen minutes from time San Gwann won a penalty when livewire Zammit was floored by Jesmar Briffa, with the Saints’ goalkeeper Magri being sent off for dissent. When things calmed down, Zammit fired home the fourth and final goal from the penalty spot.

Pembroke continued where they left off in March, with a good performance, brushing aside Vittoriosa’s resistance with relative ease. This match will most probably remain in football history books as Pembroke were awarded a penalty after only 18 seconds play, a penalty which was converted in style by newcomer Jurgen Suda. Coach Jacques Scerri’s side had to wait till the 34th minute to double the score when Suda crossed towards Erikys da Silva, ex-Naxxar, who fired in the top of the net. Five minutes later Pembroke were on velvet when Erikys’ cross was left by Stefan Jankovic to the onrushing veteran Jonathan Bajada, who fired a beauty that gave Ryan Marmara no chance to save. In stoppage time Vittoriosa pulled on back when Denilson Borg Castaldi pounced on a Pembroke blunder, dribbled past goalkeeper Matthew Grech before planting at the back of the net. In the second half Vittoriosa tried to crawl back in the game but their hopes were dealt the deadly blow fifteen minutes from time when Nick Ghio headed home the fourth goal from close range.

Two relegated sides, Zejtun Corinthians and Lija Athletic, opened the league last Friday night, with Zejtun winning 3-1. Orosco Anonam’s Zejtun took a 2-0 lead halfway the first half with two quick goals by David Xuereb (33rd) and new signing Claudio Murici four minutes later, while Lija centre back Leon Muscat pulled one back in added time of the first half. However, close to the hour, Jean Carlos, another new Brazilian in the team of Zejtun, put the outcome of the match beyond doubt with Zejtun’s third goal. Newcomers Melita beat Marsaxlokk 1-0, a hard fought victory with the winner coming late in the match from Anderson De Barros, ex-Zejtun, Melita’s new midfielder.

Group B
Steve D’Amato’s Tarxien Rainbows started the season with a bang, demolishing Senglea 6-1. The score speaks for itself as the Blues dominated from the start, taking an early lead and then building a four-goal cushion before the break. It was a nightmare return for coach Dennis Fenech as his side were outplayed, especially in defence where they were constantly caught on the wrong foot. Tarxien took the lead with a Darren Falzon header on three minutes and on 21 minutes Ricardinho fired home from close range. On the half hour captain Matthew Tabone headed home Tarxien’s third from a corner action and four minutes later, Ricardinho scored his second of the match with a precise lob. Three minutes into the second half, Saturday Nanapere found the back from an acute angle for the fifth goal for his new team and on 82 minutes some consolation for Senglea as substitute Larsson Mallia scored from the penalty spot. Deep in stoppage time a penalty for Tarxien with Thiago Nonato having to take it twice, but the result was always the same with the ball at the back of the net.

Qrendi got off to a positive start as well, beating current Amateur League champions Luqa St Andrew’s 2-0. The original St Andrew’s are back at second level football after an absence of 45 years and surely had their moments in this balanced match. Initially, most of the play was in the midfield area, with the newly promoted side creating some off-target attempts. Luqa looked like they were in better control of the game, but Qrendi captain Dasser Sammut, spectacularly finished off the ball from well outside the box on the half-time break to put his team 1-0 up. Ten minutes after the resumption, Sammut beat Luqa goalkeeper Pablo Villar once more, this time with a splendid shot from outside the box. A perfect start for new Qrendi coach Lydon Fenech.

Both Swieqi United and Pieta’ Hotspurs opened their accounts with identical hard fought 1-0 wins. An Alan Schembri Wismayer goal scored direct from a freekick midway through the second half was enough for Swieqi to claim all three points against Fgura United. The match initially failed to lift off with few scoring chances in the first half with Fgura going close with a Prudente shot going inches wide and Swieqi hitting back with the Fgura goalkeeper denying Ewerton and Castano. Ten minutes before full-time, Swieqi should have wrapped the match but Joseph Willy missed a sitter. Three minutes later, Fgura had their best chance to save the match but Gandini’s header was brilliantly saved by Jean-Claude Debattista.

A penalty scored by Japanese import Yuto Morita just before the break is what divided Pieta and Zebbug with the former emerging winners in this tight and keenly contested match. Zebbug saw more of the ball in the opening stages but goal mouth actions were scarce. On the half hour Pieta came close with a Morita header hitting the upright. On 43 minutes, Pieta captain James Scicluna, one of the best on the field of play, darted inside the box and was pulled by Shaun Bugeja and from the resultant penalty Morita scored the winner. Two minutes later Scicluna again ventured forward and this time was blocked by Jamie Azzopardi outside the area, with the referee showing the Zebbug goalkeeper the red card. In the second half Zebbug pushed forward for the equaliser but Pieta were very dangerous in their counter breaks. However, the score remained unchanged with Pieta also finishing with ten men when Lee Galea was shown a second yellow in stoppage time.

Promotion favourites Marsa started their run for a place in the Premier League on the wrong foot, when they were held to a 1-1 draw by a spirited St. Andrews side. In fact Brian Said’s squad was a pleasant surprise for their fighting spirit and determination. Marsa, who were on the verge of promotion last season, are a completely different side and the team needs some time to settle down and coach Potenza still has some tweaks to do. Marsa had more of the ball and attacked more but had very few open scoring opportunities. The Saints on their part played the ball well with Kei Sano and Colombian Santiago Martinez a constant headache to the Marsa rear-guard. Marsa lost a golden opportunity on eleven minutes when Ryan Darmanin failed to score from the penalty spot. Ten minutes into the second half St Andrews forged ahead with a Martinez solo run and eleven minutes later Marsa drew level with a great Siraj Arab goal.

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