Al Ahly edge City in friendly Published on: 20-09-2012

Al Ahly 4

Essa 24 pen; Alghanoodi 45, 52; Bahir 63 pen;
Valletta 3
Leandro 5; E. Agius 38; Mifsud 70 pen;

“In football we are friends,” Mark Miller, the Valletta FC coach, told reporters hours before his team faced Libyan club Al Ahly in a friendly match at Tripoli’s International Stadium, yesterday.

Valletta’s decision to accept Al Ahly’s invitation to be their ‘guest’ opponents in a friendly commemorating the Libyan club’s 62nd anniversary had been greeted with raised eyebrows because of safety concerns in the country but here the messages had all been about peace and friendship.

This friendly spirit permeated yesterday’s match which featured seven goals, three of which from penalties, and a plethora of substitutions as Miller, like his Al Ahly counterpart, took the opportunity to give a run-out to virtually all the players in his squad, including his assistant Gilbert Agius.

Valletta twice led in the first half but Al Ahly bounced back to win the game 4-3.

Before kick-off, Clyde Puli, the Parliamentary Secretary for Sport, and officials from the Libyan sports ministry, descended on the pitch to shake hands with the players.

Valletta’s starting XI was a mixture of regulars and fringe players as the likes of Jonathan Caruana, Steve Borg, Gabriel and William Barbosa were joined by Edmond Agius, Kurt Magro and young goalkeeper Yenz Cini.

It was Valletta who seized the lead after five minutes. Shaun Bajada’s free-kick soared towards the far post where Barbosa directed the ball goalwards and Leandro Almeida applied the final touch.

Al Ahly, sporting an all-green outfit, came close to an equaliser when Waleed Almabrook made headway in the City box but his shot was beaten away by Cini.

The early exchanges were balanced but scoring chances were at a premium. Al Ahly, who had been marginally the better of the two sides, received a boost on 24 minutes when they were awarded a penalty after Ian Azzopardi was adjudged to have pushed the advancing Firas Jumma.

Midfielder Mohamed Essa sent Cini the wrong way, much to the delight of the sparse crowd.

Valletta improved as the first half wore on, putting together some cohesive moves.

Their one-touch football was troubling Al Ahly and, late in the first half, the Maltese champions produced a fine move to restore their lead. Bajada burst clear before slipping an excellent pass to Gabriel who was unmarked inside the box. The Brazilian promptly squared to Edmond Agius who beat Salah Almabrook with a crisp finish.

On the stroke of half-time, Leandro evaded the challenge of the Al Ahly goalkeeper but the Libyan side’s defenders tracked back to clear the danger.

When it looked as though Valletta would end the first half 2-1 ahead, Al Ahly equalised.

Magro was harshly adjudged to have pulled Jumma outside the box and Mohamed Alghanoodi’s free-kick had the better of Cini.

The start of the second half was delayed by a series of presentations with Al Ahly officials giving mementoes to Puli and Victor Sciriha, the president of Valletta FC.

Miller made a spate of changes at half-time. One of the players substituted was Gabriel who limped off the pitch just before half-time after picking up an injury.

Al Ahly soon went 3-2 up.

Alghanoodi punished some hesitant defending by Valletta as the Al Ahly striker surged past his static opponents and calmly chipped the ball over Manuel Bartolo.

Thirteen minutes into the second half, Michael Mifsud replaced Dyson Falzon.

Things got worse for Valletta when Al Ahly were awarded another penalty after Bartolo lunged into the advancing Algha-noodi inside the box.

Mahmood Said Bahir made no mistake from the spot.

On 70 minutes, it was Valletta who won a penalty after Denni was nudged off the ball in the box. Mifsud drilled his shot home.

As the minutes ticked by, there was a sharp drop in the intensity of the game.

On one occasion, Mifsud was dispossessed in the box after being put through by Denni.

At the other end, Bartolo saved City with a fine save to parry away Jumma’s angled effort.

Source - Times of Malta