Valletta 1 Red Star Belgrade 2
A gutsy performance from Valletta was not enough to earn them a positive result in the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round match against Crvena Zvezda as the Serbian outfit came back from a goal down to win 2-1.
While the defeat was hard to take for Valletta, who had taken an early lead through Federico Falcone, they can still take a lot of encouragement from a bold showing against a team who, on paper, are superior to the Maltese champions.
A goal down, Red Star were always going to make a reaction in the second half but Falcone’s exit due to injury before half-time made things easier for the visitors as Valletta lost their attacking pillar.
Red Star, for whom Aleksandar Katai had a great game, scored twice in nine second-half minutes to secure victory which makes them favourites to advance to the next round of the Champions League.
The presence of scores of police officers dressed in anti-riot gear attested to the high level of security in place for this match.
A sizeable group of Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) fans made their way to Malta for this game.
Valletta coach Paul Zammit handed a first start to Steve Borg after the Malta defender recovered from injury.
The hosts were off to a brisk start, pushing forward when in possession without losing their tactical shape.
Valletta’s early efforts produced an early breakthrough on 15 minutes to the delight of their vocal fans.
And what a goal it was Federico Falcone, latching on to a great cross from fellow Argentine Leandro Aguirre, rifled a powerful volley into the far corner of the net.
Red Star looked stunned. They created a chance when Ezequiel Ibanez supplied a cross from the left but Felipe headed wide.
Valletta’s aggressive pressing was making it difficult for Red Star to build any sort of momentum.
Three minutes past the half-hour, Valletta thought they had doubled their lead when Jhonnattann picked out Falcone who advanced before hitting a curling effort home but the Argentine was flagged offside in what looked like a dubious decision by the assistant referee.
Falcone was forced to leave the field late in the first half after picking up an injury. He was replaced by Santiago Malano.
Two minutes into the second half, Valletta had a great chance to extend their advantage/ Pani’s through-ball found Malano in ample space after the Argentine had sprung open Red Star’s offside ploy. Malano galloped forward but he took a heavy touch which enabled Damir Kahriman to recoup ground and shackle the Argentine before play was stopped for a dubious foul on the Red Star goalkeeper.
Katai was Red Star’s most dangerous player with his swift incursions down the left. The Serbia winger had a low shot saved by Henry Bonello while Guelor Kanga fired wide from outside the box.
Red Star increased their pressure. Argentine Pablo Mouche ran himself into a shooting position inside the box before lifting a menacing shot that Bonello did well to push over the bar.
There was another chance for Red Star as Katai nodded over from Mouche’s cross.
In a City counter-attack, Jhonnattann pushed forward on the right but his powerful strike was beaten away by Kahriman.
From the prospect of doubling their lead, Valletta conceded an equaliser on 65 minutes. Storming into the box from the right, Katai held off Ian Azzopardi and chipped the ball over Bonello from an acute angle.
Red Star went ahead 16 minutes from time. Katai was the provider as his low cross from the left was tucked home by substitute Predrag Sikimic.
Late on, Malano had a shot saved by Kahriman.
Source – timesofmalta.com
VALLETTA – H. Bonello, F. Falcone (S. Malano), J. Benites, R. Briffa (L. Cremona), I. Azzopardi (U. Calistus), R. Romao, C. Pani, J. Caruana, J. Gill Cruz, L. Aguirre, S. Borg,
RED STAR BELGRADE – D. Kahriman, A. Lukovic, Le Tallec, Kanga, Katai, (Ruiz) M. Cvetkovic, Donald, S. Srnic (Mouche), H. Veira (Sikimic), Ibanez, Phibel.
Yellow: C. Pani, R. Romao (V), Kanga, Katai (R)
Scorers: 15′ F. Falcone (V), 66′ Katai, 75′ Sikimic (R)
Referee: Alexander Harkem (Aut)