The Malta Independent 22 August 2019, Thursday

UEFA Champions League: Valletta hold on to draw to qualify on away goals

Chris Cassar Tuesday, 16 July 2019, 22:15 Last update: about 2 months ago
Photos: Domenic Aquilina
Photos: Domenic Aquilina

Valletta                 1
F91 Dudelange     1

Valletta: H. Bonello, S. Borg, R. Camilleri, K. Nwoko (S. Dimech 69'), J. Borg (J. Cruz Gill 92'), E. Pena Beltre, J. Zerafa, D. Packer, N. Pulis, M. Fontanella, K. Tulimieri (A. Monticelli 77').

F91 Dudelange: T. Kips, T. Schnell, M. Pokar, D. Sinani, D. Stolz, R. Delgado, M. Garos, M. Kirch, C. Lavie (Cabral Barbosa 76'), M. Bouchouari, S. Bougrine (O. Natami 86')

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Referee: Juri Frischer (Estonia)

Ass. Referees: Neeme Neemlaid, Veiko Motsnik (Estonia)

Fourth official: Kristo Kulljastinen (Estonia)

Scorers: M. Fontanella 35', M. Pokar 58',

Yellow cards: S. Borg, D. Sinani, N. Pulis, T. Schnell, M. Fontanella, E. Pena Beltre, A. Monticelli, H. Bonello, O. Natami, D. Packer, B. Cabral Barbosa.

Valletta obtained the draw they wanted against Dudelange to qualify thanks to the two away goals scored in Luxembourg seven days ago. But Valletta had to sweat hard to obtain this result and now wait for the outcome of the clash between Ferencvaros and Ludogorets Razgrad to know their opponents next week.

Valletta had a slow start, but the dominated the first half taking a deserved lead and going close to a second goal as they were the better outfit on the field of play. The second half started at a very slow pace until Dudelange scored a soft equaliser on 58 minutes.

The game changed drastically from then onwards with Valletta in great difficulty and with Dudelange growing in composure. Valletta had to defend desperately for long stretches with Dudelange missing a couple of clear cut chances in front of goal, but luckily for the locals, they held to their precious draw to make it to the next round.

Valletta had to start without the suspended Rowen Muscat, and coach Darren Abdilla opted for Packer and the promising Nicholss Pulis as central midfielders with Pena Beltre and Joseph Zerafa on the flanks.

Jean Borg, Steve Borg and Ryan Camilleri formed the three-man defensive set-up with Nwoko as central striker aided by Tulimieri on the left and Fontanella on the right.

Dudelange missed the first attempt after six minutes when Lavie failed to connect in front of goal following a good run on the right by Bougrine. Dudelange held the initiative in the opening minutes with Valletta trying to operate with their counter breaks, but were rather erratic in their build up.

Valletta's first move on 18 minutes with Pena Beltre free on the right but his cross for Nwoko was rather long and the Valletta striker could not hit from close range. Valletta were now playing better with Nwoko a menace upfront.

Half way through the first half a Bougrine deflected shot almost deceived Bonello but the ball went wide. On 35 minutes Valletta broke the deadlock when Kyrian Nwoko powered his way inside the area, his shot was partially saved by the goalkeeper with the ball finishing against the base of the upright and Mario Fontanella pounced on the rebound to hammer home from close range.

Three minutes later Pulis passed towards Nwoko who was completely off mark this time with his shot well over the bar. On 41 minutes another glorious chance for the local champions when Tulimieri passed towards Fontanella whose point blank shot was somehow blocked by Kips.

Valletta finished the first part in crescendo with the Dudelange rearguard in great difficulty trying to avoid a second goal.

Valletta had to absorb some pressure at the start of the second half but the Citizens controlled the match with relative ease. On 55 minutes Valletta had a good break through Pena Beltre but his angled drive was off target.

But on 58 minutes Dudelange drew level with a rather soft goal. From a corner action Bonello punched the ball and from just outside the area Mario Pokar managed to fire low into the net with Bonello unable to block his drive.

The match was now an open contest and Dudelange were back in the reckoning. On 66 minutes Bonello saved his side with a great save off a Kirch dipper. Valletta lost all their first half composure and were in apparent physical and psychological difficulty.

Coach Abdilla substituted Nwoko and Tulimieri with Dimech and Monticelli, but the Citizens still were at sixes and sevens at times at the back. A Schnell effort just missed the crossbar on 77 minutes.

Pulis had a rare attempt that was saved by the goalkeeper and the same player wasted a good opportunity on 81 minutes blasting over the bar when well placed. Two minutes from the 90th minute substitute Natami headed over the bar when well placed.

On 90 minutes Stolz missed a sitter all alone in front of goal. The last minutes were very tense and tempers flared too, with several yellow cards and even a red card to Valletta's assistant coach Gilbert Agius.

After almost ten minutes of stoppage time the final whistle found the local champions still holding desperately to a precious draw, a draw that puts them in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League.

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