The Malta Independent 19 September 2020, Saturday

Five years ago today: Miccoli shocks West Ham, but Birkirkara suffer penalty heartbreak

Albert Galea Thursday, 23 July 2020, 18:02 Last update: about 3 months ago

Five years ago, Fabrizio Miccoli shocked West Ham as he gave Birkirkara a 1-0 win at the National Stadium in Ta’ Qali, leaving the English Premier League side to rely on a penalty shootout to scrape through the Europa League clash.

Birkirkara faced West Ham in the 2015/16 Europa League second qualifying round in what was expected to be a one-sided affair in favour of the English side, who had finished 12th in the previous season’s Premier League.

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However, the first-leg at West Ham’s Boleyn Ground only saw the Hammers come away with a 1-0 win courtesy of a James Tomkins goal towards the end of the match.

It soon became clear that the sweltering heat and a packed Ta’ Qali stadium was going to be no easy task for the English side.

The reality of the situation in fact soon set in – it took only 14 minutes for Fabrizio Miccoli to give Birkirkara the lead with a sliding finish following a brilliant counter-attack.

Things went from bad to worse for West Ham when Tomkins was sent off after an altercation with Birkirkara defender Maurizio Mazzetti, who put in a man of the match performance.

In fact, the Hammers could only manage one shot on target throughout the game, although West Ham’s Modibo Maiga had a goal disallowed for offside.

With the game poised at 1-1 on aggregate, it went to extra time. A second yellow card for the immense Mazzetti – whose performance was so impressive that it was rumoured that West Ham later contacted Birkirkara to inquire about a transfer for the player – put both sides on ten-man as they each saw the game out.

The game went to penalties, with the players shooting towards Ta’ Qali’s North Stand.

The experience of West Ham however shone through as they kept their cool to win the shootout with the score of 5-3.

West Ham did not manage to get past the following round – they lost 4-3 on aggregate to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu and were knocked out.

Birkirkara meanwhile in the following season became the first Maltese side to reach the Europa League third qualifying round, after aggregate wins against Bosnian side Siroki Brijeg and Scottish side Hearts of Midlothian.

They were eventually knocked out in the third round by Russian giants Krasnodar, with a 6-1 aggregate loss.

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