The Malta Independent 28 May 2023, Sunday
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It’s Valletta’s 24th Premier League title as Hibernians shatter Balzan's dreams

Saturday, 21 April 2018, 23:03 Last update: about 6 years ago
Photos: Domenic Aquilina and James Galea
Photos: Domenic Aquilina and James Galea

Valletta were crowned Malta champions for the 24th time in their history, winning the title in a dramatic finish, beating Gzira and outgoing champions Hibernians shattering Balzan’s dreams of winning their first ever title.

Valletta and Balzan started Saturday’s matches equal on the 55 point mark, and a decider was in the offing. But in the last ninety minutes Valletta managed to beat third placed Gzira by the odd goal in three, and Hibernians played an outstanding match to beat Balzan, who for the second year running just failed to make it.


Valletta are new champions as they wrest title on final day


Gzira U: A. Curmi, R. Briffa (C. Sammut), A. Neto (L. Brincat), K. Thackray (D. Mambouana), C. Gatt Baldacchino, Z. Scerri, N. Muscat, H. Garba, A. Cohen, J. Corbolan, K. Pulo

Valletta: H. Bonello, S. Borg, R. Camilleri (A. Prosa), S. Malano (J. Borg), M. Piciollo, J. Zerafa,  E. Beltre', R. Saleh, R. Muscat, K. Nwoko, M. Alba (D. Dos Santos)

Referee: C. Pisani

Asst.refs: A. Camilleri, W. Debattista

Additional asst.refs: F. Zammit, E. Mangion

4th official: I. Barbara

Scorers: M. Piciollo 7, R. Saleh 64, A. Cohen 80 pen

Yellow cards: M. Neto, R. Muscat, Z. Scerri, K. Thackray, D. Dos Santos

Player of the match: M. Piciollo (Valletta)

TMI top 3: 1. M.Alba  2. M. Piciollo  3. K. Nwoko

Attendance: 3,561


Silvio Vella


Hardly ever tipped as favourites to win the BoV Premier League this season, Valletta showed resilience, consistency and self belief of late to wrest their 24th title in the club's rich history from favourites Balzan on this final day of an intriguing campaign.

There was an understandable mixture of joy and relief in the celebrations that followed after the final whistle.

Valletta last lost to Gzira United way back in December.

Since then they embarked on an impressive unbeaten run of 13 matches - dropping points only against Sliema Wanderers, Balzan, Birkirkara and Floriana - to remain the only unbeaten side in this calendar year.

They have kept 17 clean sheets this season and boast the best defence in the league.

Going into yesterday's match with equal points as Balzan, Valletta did what was required of them and beat Gzira United with goals from Matteo Piciollo and Reid Saleh as rivals Balzan stumbled against Hibernians.

The match was played in a cacophony of noise from the numerous Valletta supporters in the two main stands at Ta' Qali National Stadium, as a few scores of Gzira fans watched from the Millenium stand.

Gzira with nothing to play for, were obliging opponents, having already secured third place of what has been a memorable campaign for them. Yesterday they were an understrength side. Suspensions to Sascha Borg and Emmanuel Okoye were summed up by, coach Darren Abdilla's decision to drop his best scorer Amadou Samb and leaving Edison Zarate and Mosies Avila Perez on the bench.

They lacked ambition or urgency and their menace came only from a couple of promising runs from Haruna Garba, left to plough a lone furrow, and a late Andrew Cohen penalty that served only for statistical purpose.

It was therefore down to Valletta, in full force with Joseph Zerafa starting the match ahead of Jean Borg, to do the running, with the Balzan-Hibernians match played at the Hibernians Stadium undoubtedly on their minds.

Valletta, in truth, could not have made a better start. There were only seven minutes gone when the Gzira defence was caught outnumbered on a Malano low centre inside their area, Saleh's effort was partially blocked by keeper Curmi and Matteo Piciollo slotted the ball in for his eighth goal of the season.

Valletta kept seeing more of the ball, but with Gzira holding all their players behind the ball, the Citizens struggled to find spaces.

Nwoko started to become involved a running battle with Gzira's central defenders, Gatt Baldacchino and Neto. On 25 minutes, pressed by Briffa inside the area, he shot over and wide.

Valletta could easily have added a second in the first half. Towards the half hour Pulo lost the ball to Saleh, the low cross reached the unmarked Piciollo who could not control though.

On 33 minutes Gzira keeper Curmi stretched himself well to turn Alba's meaty free kick into a corner. Camilleri skied the ball following a short Gzira clearance from Alba's corner.

The pattern of the game did not change much in the second period. Valletta soon went close again when a Piciollo pass fell to Alba whose low drive from edge of area fractionally missed the target.

The stadium erupted on 56 minutes as the news arrived among the Valletta fans that Hibernians had taken the lead against Balzan.

And with the Valletta celebrations still going on, the volume increased on 64 minutes as the Citizens doubled their lead. Malano's pass inside the area, carved Gzira open and Reid Saleh to chase and hit past keeper Curmi.

Denni Dos Santos and Jean Borg were also called to play their part for the last quarter hour.

And ten minutes from time, Gzira were awarded a penalty after Ryan Camilleri fouled Corbolan inside the area and Andrew Cohen stepped up to reduce the deficit.

But that could not deny Valletta.

As they were presented with the new winners' trophy, the colourful and noisy atmosphere resonated around the populated stadium and later in the capital.


Failla goal shatters Balzan’s title dreams

Hibernians          1
Balzan                   0

Hibernians: A. Hogg, M. Dias, R. Da Gracia Gomes, A. Agius, C. Failla, R. Soares, J. Lima, D. Vella (B. Kristensen 82 min), J. Bezzina, J. Degbriele (A. Oliveira Neto 85 min), J. Mbong (M. Kreuzriegler 68 min) .

Balzan: I. Janjusevic (S. Mintoff 46 min), B. Kaljevic, I. Bozovic, A. Da Paixao Alves, E. Serrano Valero, P. Fenech, R. Fenech (S. Arab 60 min), S. Bezzina, A. Effiong, M. Johnson, M. Lepovic (J. Grioli 72 min).

Referee: Glenn Tonna

Ass referees: Duncan Sultana, Thomas Debono

Additiona ass. Referees: Matthew Degabriele, Emanuel Grech

Fourth Official: Darryl Agius

Yellow cards: A. Agius, E. Serrano Valero, R. Soares, J. Mbong, S. Arab, A. Da Paixao Alves, A. Hoigg

Scorers: C. Failla 56 min,

Player of the match: Clayton Failla (Hibernians)

TMI Best Three: 1. C. Failla 2. A. Agius 3. A. Da Paixao Alves 

Attendance: 1167


Chris Cassar


It’s all over for Balzan. They failed to keep the pace with Valletta, who beat Gzira, as they left the field empty handed against Hibernians.

A Clayton Failla goal early in the second half shattered Balzan aspirations to win their first ever title. Hibernians fully deserved the victory yesterday as they were the better team in an otherwise balanced affair.

All the pressure was on Balzan yesterday, and they failed miserably, especially after suffering the decisive goal

The match was rather cagey at the start with Hibernians having the upper hand in the first part of the first half. However, Balzan slowly but surely, started to get more in the game taking control of the midfield sector.

In this second part of the first half, the outgoing champions were a bit disjointed, with Jurgen Degabriele completely isolated in attack.

Scoring opportunities were few with Balzan creating the first danger when a Ryan Fenech created some panic in front of Hogg but Failla eventually cleared the danger. Hibs hit back with a Lima angled drive that went well over the bar.

On 16 minutes Hibernians had the best chance of the first half when Balzan goalkeeper Janjusevic failed to clear and lost a tackle with Jurgen Degabriele whose shot at an open goal was somehow cleared off the goal line by Serrano Valero.

The Balzan goalkeeper was also injured in this action, but he somehow struggled to finish at least the first half. On 23 minutes a Steve Bezzina cross was met by Kaljevic who anticipated Hogg but his header went slightly over the bar.

On the half hour Degabriele passed to Mbong who made his way inside the area but his effort was too weak to worry Janjusevic. Just before the break a Johan Bezzina bombshell was blocked by Kaljevic who had to be assisted by Balzan’s medical staff.

Janjusevic did not make it in the second half and was substituted by Sean Mintoff. Effiong had the first attempt on the resumption but his shot was off target. On 56 minutes Hibernians took the lead when from a Jackson Lima corner, Soares headed on the first post towards Failla who with another header put the ball at the back of the net.

Balzan were shocked but pushed forward, with Hibernians dangerous in their breaks. Mbong failed to connect in front of goal to a Bezzina low cross and on 66 minutes Degabriele also failed to connect in front of goal.

On 73 minutes Effiong powered his way on the right and his cross was met by Paixao Alves whose shot went slightly wide. Four minutes from time Mintoff kept his side in the game with a fine save off a Bezzina drive.

Balzan pushed everything desperately forward but there was no way they could get past Hibernians’ defence as the outgoing champions handed Valletta their 24th title.


Birkirkara come from behind to beat Hamrun and make sure of 4th place

Birkirkara                             4

Hamrun S.                           2

Birkirkara: K. Naumovski, E. Herrera, F. Barbosa, M. Andelkovic, K. Zammit, O. Rolovic (G. Zammit), N. Vukanac, W. Acosta Ferreira, R. Scicluna (C. Lenardelli), C. Attard, T. Agius (L. Maia).

Hamrun S.: J. Galea, T. Caruana, D. Camilleri, T. Souza da Silveira, D. Zerafa, K. Micallef, T. Espindola, L. Micallef  (A. Faria Machado), M.Criaco, G. De Castro (J. Galea), A. Nilsson (B. Schembri).

Referee: M. Apap.

Asst refs: P. Apap, P. Abela.

4th official: S. Spiteri.

Birkirkara come from behind to beat Hamrun and make sure of 4th place: A. Nilsson, M. Criaco, N. Vukanac, E. Herrera, O. Rolovic 2

Birkirkara come from behind to beat Hamrun and make sure of 4th place: T. Agius, T. Caruana, N. Vukanac, T. Souza da Silveira, W. Acosta Ferreira, M. Andelkovic, O. Rolovic, G. De Castro,

Player of the match: E. Herrera

TMI Top 3: 1 E. Herrera, 2. M. Andelkovic, 3. M. Criaco.

Attendance: 293


Henry Brincat


Birkirkara came from 2-0 down to beat Hamrun 4-2 to make sure of finishing 4th ahead of Floriana and Hibernians.

Birkirkara finished on 47 points while Floriana and Hibernians finished on 46.

It was a difficult win for the Stripes who survived a first half shock before emerging winners.

The Stripes needed to win this match to make sure of finishing 4th and were favourites to beat Hamrun who had no further interest in the competition, well placed in mid-table with no relegation worries.

But the Spartans were in no mood for mercy and gave their rivals a big shock when they took the lead after just 14 minutes. With Floriana taking the lead against Lija, Birkirkara’s task became even more uphill as Hamrun scored a second goal five minutes from the interval.

The Stripes hit back almost immediately to get back in the match. But at the interval, it was Floriana who were temporarily occupying 4th place as Hibernians, the other club interested in that place, were figuring in a goalless draw against Balzan.

In the second half, the Stripes turned the tables in their favour scoring three goals without reply to make sure of their win.

However, they now need either to win the FA Trophy themselves or see Valletta or Balzan winning it to accede to nextg season’s Europa League.

The Stripes owed much to their midfield duo of Edward Herrera and Mislav Andelkovic who were involved in almost all the Birkirkara moves and the goals.

Birkirkara were the first to threaten on five minutes through an Edward Herrera rising shot which was well saved by Jake Galea.

Hamrun replied with a shot by Criaco which, however, went well over the bar.

It was Hamrun who drew first blood on 14 minutes when Criaco sent a fine through pass to Alexander Nilsson who went past a defender before firing a shot that beat Naumovski all ends up.

On the 24th minute, Birkirkara protested for a penalty when they claimed that Herrera was pulled down in the area, but Mr Apap, close to the action, waved play on.

Four minutes later, from a Rolovic cross, Herrera’s header was saved on deck by the diving Galea.

In the 40th minute, Hamrun scored a second goal. It was Marco Criaco who fired a brilliant shot from a freekick which beat Naumovski for a highly unexpected result for the Stripes.

Soon after, Birkirkara were back in the hunt as from an Herrera freekick, it was Vukanac who headed in.

The Stripes came out more determined in the second half and on the 49th minute, they equalised with a splendid goal from Edward Herrera who beat Galea with a great rising shot from outside the area.

Immediately after, at the other end, it was goalie Naumovski who turned protagonist as he turned to corner a close range shot from Nilsson.

As the Stripes insisted, it was Rolovic who turned the result in their favour, as he received a perfect cross from Acosta Ferreira to advance and place the ball past the advancing Galea to the delight of the Birkirkara fans.

The Stripes made sure of their win as they sealed their victory with a fourth goal – Rolovic’s second. He beat Galea with a low shot. 


Floriana romp past Lija

Floriana 6
Lija Athletic 2

Lija Athletic: J Martinelli, P Babic, R Sammut, L Muscat, A Bello Osagie, A Sammut, D Agius, E Beu, K Hirose, A R Kooh Sohna, H Vilfor

Floriana FC: I E Akpan, S Nayar, E Pepe, E Ruiz, S Pisani, J Cabral, A Cini, A Oyama, D Grima, M Fontanella, E Marcelina

Referee: Philip Farrugia, Asst Referees: L. Portelli, D Petrovic, Asst Referee: Stefan Pace

Scorers: Sebastian Nayer 29’, Juninho Cabral 42 (pen), 58’, E Marcelina 54’, M Fontanella 75’, 90’  Erjon Beu 82’, 90’


Gerald Fenech

Floriana romped to an easy victory over Lija Athletic in a one sided game where the Greens continued to hope for a place in Europe. Lija had been relegated some weeks ago and Floriana were looking to end their season what could be termed as a high.

The match was rather quiet for the first few minutes with a shot by Juninho Cabral ending up just wide after 8 minutes. Enzo Ruiz had an overhead kick that also went wide after 15 minutes as Floriana began to turn the screw on their opponents.

On 18 minutes, Lija had a fine chance when Kei Hirose escaped and crossed towards Hysa Vilfor who saw his header end up just wide. That was particularly the only move from Lija’s part throughout the match

Floriana took the lead on 29 minutes when Sebastian Nayer headed from off the post after a cross by Juninho Cabral . The Greens doubled on 42 minutes when Cabral himself was brought down in the box by keeper Martinelli with the same Cabral hitting the penalty home with ease.

Floraian made sure of the points on 54 minutes when Marcelina finished off a fine move beating Martinelli for the second time with a low shot. Juninho Cabral scored his second goal on 68 minutes to seal the victory for a rampant Floriana.

However there were more goals coming with Fontanella adding another on 75 minutes to make it 5-0. Lija then came back with a brace from Erjon Beu on 82’ and 90’ with Fontanella making it 6-2 for Floriana in the dying seconds whilst Lija bowed out of the Premier League with a resounding defeat.

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