Valletta see off Folgore Published on: 30-06-2017

Valletta opened their Europa League campaign on a sound footing after seeing off Folgore, of San
Marino, by two clear goals in the opening leg of the first qualifying round at the Hibs Stadium.
It was far from a convincing performance from the Citizens who looked to be a work-inprogress side in Zoran Popovic’s official debut as Valletta coach as they struggled to display any sort of fluid football.
But the Citizens still managed to make their technical superiority count at the distance as two well-taken goals by Steve Borg and Maximiliano Velasco earned them a valuable two-goal lead ahead of next week’s second leg in Serravalle.
While Valletta should find little difficulty to protect their advantage next week and set up a second-qualifying round clash against FC Utrecth of the Netherlands, Popovic surely will be aware that there is still a lot of
work to be done.
The Citizens sorely felt the absence of their midfield duo Roderick Briffa and Rowen Muscat as they lacked creativity in the final third of the pitch and the injury suffered by Uchenna Umeh in the latter stages of
the match further increases the concern of Popovic who will surely look to bring reinforcements
in the next few weeks.
Popovic named his strongest formation available with goalkeeper Henry Bonello and defender Joseph Zerafa, the club’s two close-season signings from Birkirkara, handed their competitive debut. Juan Cruz Gill, the Brazilian defender, was deployed in a defensive midfield role alongside Claudio Pani.
Velasco was the team attacking fulcrum, supported from the flanks by Michael Mifsud and Romeo Romao.
The Citizens as expected dominated proceedings but their poor distribution of the ball hampered their chances of creating any danger to the Folgore goal.
In fact they had to wait until the 23rd minute to create their first scoring opportunity.
Pani’s long pass found Mifsud who beat the offside trap but the Malta striker was denied by the onrushing Luca Bianchi.
Ten minutes later, Romao powered his way into the area from the right and his low drive was palmed away by Bianchi.
Valletta were desperate for an opener and that finally arrived four minutes from the break.
Umeh delivered a teasing cross into the path of Steve Borg who headed firmly past Bianchi.
At the start of the second half, Valletta continued to pile the pressure and on 46 minutes Romao fired over from the edge of the area.
A minute later, Umeh charged forward and put Velasco clean through and the Argentine striker slid the ball past Bianchi.
The Folgore goalkeeper came to his side’s rescue twice in the space of a minute when he first kept out
Malano’s low drive and then had to be alert to block Umeh’s effort.
Folgore finally threatened on 71 minutes when Marco Bernardi was at the end of a cross by Luca Bezzi but his dipping header just missed the upright.
Nine minutes from time, Mifsud embarked on a surging run from the right which saw him outpace Luca Paradisi but his cross-shot was pushed away by goalkeeper Bianchi.
Valletta almost added a third a minute from time when Mifsud’s shot was pushed away by Bianchi.

Source - Times of Malta, photo credits Tonio Magro