The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

UEFA Europa League: B. Kaljevic and Ljubomirac score as Balzan surprise Slovan Bratislava

Thursday, 26 July 2018, 20:51 Last update: about 5 months ago

Balzan: S. Sultana, N. Slivic, Lecao (R. Correa), S. Bezzina, M. Johnson, U. Ljubomirac, I. Bozovic, E. Serrano, Cadu (D. Camilleri), B. Kaljevic (A. Effiong), M. Lepovic.

Slovan Bratislava: M. Sulla, M. Apau, M. Rharsalla, A. Sporar, R. Ibrahim (D. Drazic), Nono, A. Sukhotskiy, D. Holman, V. Bozhikov, A. Cavric (B. Cmiljanic), K. Bajric.

Referee: J. Maae (Denmark).

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Asst refs: H. Sorensen, L. Hummelgaard.

4th official: M. Krogh.

Scorers: B. Kaljevic 15, U. Ljubomirac 67, V. Savicevic 72

Balzan's dream in the Europa League this season continues. On Thursday, against all expectations, they surprised Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia registering a 2-1 win which pushes them close to what would be a first ever appearance by a Maltese club in the third round of a European club competition.

Balzan's win could have been bigger had they not been unlucky in suffering Slovan's goal, that is, when a shot was slightly deflected into his own net by an unlucky Johnson.

Marko Micovic's side deserves a lot of praise for a performance which makes all those who follow Maltese football very proud.

Of course, they are not a big side, but the tactics adopted by Micovic were successful from start to finish and I would not be surprised were Balzan to continue advancing into the third round after next week's second leg.

As widely expected Slovan Bratislava took control of midfield play right from the first whistle, but Balzan defended stubbornly and in a well organised manner.

The locals also had their moments and also created a few counter attacks from one of which Kaljevic beat goalie Sulla to give Balzan the lead which they kept till the interval.

Despite their almost continuous attacks, Slovan never really found a way past the Balzan defence and rarely tested goalie Steve Sultana.

The pattern remained the same in the second half as the visitors struggled to get into the Balzan area which was well defended - sometimes by nine players.

Slovak again found difficulty in testing Sultana seriously and this could prove to be Balzan's advantage next week if they manage to defend their one-goal lead as they did yesterday.

Slovan did all the running in the opening stages, but had to wait till the 15th minute to have a first shot at goal. However, Rharsalla's low effort was easily saved by Sultana.

A minute later, against the run of play, Bezzina crossed into the Slovan area, a defender failed to clear the ball and Kaljevic was on hand to control the ball before firing past goalie Sulla.

Slovan's reply arrived in the 24th minute. From a cross by Sukhotskiy, Sporar's header was well saved by Sultana.

In the 29th minute, Slovan's goalie Sulla had to rush out of his charge to anticipate Ljubomirac, set beautifully by Kaljevic.

Just before the interval, Balzan almost added a second when in a fast counterattack, it was Kaljevic who set Cadu on the edge of the area, but the latter's shot was spectacularly turned to corner by goalie Sulla.

In the 54th minute, Slovan missed a good opportunity to equalise when from a Nono corner, Bajric headed well over the bar from an ideal position.

Three minutes later, Sultana anticipated Sporar following a cross by Ibrahim.

Balzan went close again in the 65th minute, when substitute Effiong exchanged the ball with Cadu and the goalie rushed out to clear only for the ball to go kindly to Cadu whose lob finished over the crossbar.

Balzan scored their second goal on 67 minutes when in another fast counterattack, Effiong passed the ball to Cadu who advanced to the edge of the Slovan area from where he set up Ljubomirac for the latter to fire home past a helpless Sulla.

Slovan reduced the arrears in the 72nd minute when a clearance by the Balzan defence saw Vukan Savicevic first timing the ball goalwards and Johnson, in an effort to clear, slightly miskicked the ball which unfortunately finished in the net.

On 80 minutes, Cadu tried a long distance effort from about 30 metres, but with goalie Sulla out of position, the ball sailed harmlessly over the bar.

On 90 minutes, Slovan had a good chance to draw level when from an Apau cross, Sporar had a clear header, but the ball just missed the target.

In added time, Balzan kept their cool till the end to overcome a difficult obstacle.

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