Stripes hit back to keep tie alive
Jorge 53; Mifsud Triganza 87
Fk Metalurg Skopje 2
Nestorovski 2; Churlinov 55
Birkirkara: R. Gauci, R. Pereira, N. Vukanac, J. Zerafa, R. Camenzuli, R. Muscat, P. Fenech, R. Scicluna (89 F. Zammit), S. Haruna, Joselito (77 J.P. Mifsud Triganza), Jorge.
Metalurg Skopje: I. Pavlovic, M. Petkovski, B. Ljamcevski, M. Krstev, I. Kralevski, H. Dimoski, P. Ljamcevski (52 A. Tenekedjiev), L. Stevanovic, K. Alomerovic, I. Nestorovski (B. Naumoski), C. Churlinov (81 O. Peev).
Referee: I. Stoyanov (Bulgaria).
Yellow cards: B. Ljamcevski; Zerafa; Scicluna; Nestorovski; Dimoski; Pavlovic; Stevanovic.
Birkirkara were delighted after grabbing a late equaliser to force a 2-2 draw against Macedonian outfit FK Metalurg Skopje but their happiness was tempered with a tinge of disappointment at their failure to win the game.
Showing remarkable resilience to recover from the shock of conceding after less than two minutes, Birkirkara produced the better football for much of the match, especially in a largely one-sided second half, but another lapse in concentration cost them dearly as Metalurg hit their second hardly a minute after the Stripes’ first goal.
When coach Paul Zammit declared before the game that in these type of matches, “if you make mistakes, you get punished”, he was stating the obvious but his words rang true as his team’s chances of gaining a win in the home leg of their Europa League first qualifying round tie were ultimately hindered by two soft goals, especially the second.
Nevertheless, Birkirkara deserve credit not only for their bold rally but also for the quality of their football as the likes of Jorge and Shola Shodiya Haruna tormented the strong but slow Metalurg defenders while in midfield, Rowen Muscat and Ryan Scicluna worked tirelessly throughout.
Although a 2-2 draw in the home match makes Metalurg favourites to go through, Birkirkara will surely take heart from this energetic performance which delighted the fans who turned up in numbers for the match on this hot summer evening.
New Brazilian signing Joselito made his bow for Birkirkara, flanking Haruna in attack.
Zammit favoured a 3-5-2 formation with Paul Fenech, Muscat and Scicluna filling the three midfield roles with Ryan Camenzuli and Jorge operating as wing-backs initially.
Metalurg’s ability to make a quick transition from defence to attack, earmarked by Zammit as one of their main strengths, was in ample evidence after less than two minutes, the time it took the Macedonian side to forge ahead.
Having repelled a Birkirkara foray, the green-shirted players swarmed forward with speed as Kemal Alomerovic advanced through the middle before releasing the overlapping Blagojce Ljamcevski on the left. Ljamcevski ran unimpeded into the box before serving the unmarked Ilija Nestorovski who had an easy job tapping the ball home.
Falling behind so early in the home leg was inevitably a hard blow for the Stripes but they settled as the first half gathered momentum. On 18 minutes, Rodrigo Pereira was wide with a long-range free-kick.
Creative football was at a premium for much of the ensuing 10 minutes with both sides seemingly unable to find any sort of rhythm. Despite enjoying more possession, Zammit’s men were finding it hard to create clear-cut openings.
With seven minutes of the first half remaining, Birkirkara squandered a glorious chance to equalise. Profiting from a mistake by Mile Krstev, Jorge found himself clean through but his grounder was pushed away by Igor Pavlovic, the FK Metalurg Skopje goalkeeper.
Jorge became more effective after being switched to the left wing with Scicluna moved to right midfield as Zammit tweaked his tactical strategy.
Birkirkara gained a boost in the form of an equaliser seven minutes into the second half. Camenzuli played a key role with an intelligent through-ball to Jorge who surged past the Metalurg goalkeeper and rammed the ball home from an angled position.
The joy of the home was palpable but their delight was short-lived. Birkirkara dropped their guard at the back as, a minute after Jorge’s equaliser, Ljamcevski’s cross from the left was met by Cvetan Churlinov who headed the ball past the onrushing Gauci.
Unbowed, Birkirkara sought to make quick amends. They came close when Haruna pulled the ball back for Camenzuli but his low shot rolled into the back of Scicluna.
It was all Birkirkara now as the hosts continued to push forward in search of an equaliser. With 17 minutes remaining, Haruna skipped past Krstev close the by-line but his lofted cross found no takers. Joselito, now operating on the left wing, hit a rising shot which flew over the bar.
The Brazilian newcomer made way for Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza 14 minutes from the end. The former Sliema forward engineered a good move six minutes from time, forcing his way into the box from the left. His cross was nodded on by Jorge towards Haruna but he miscued his attempt.
Two minutes later, Birkirkara gained a deserved equaliser. Camenzuli’s low cross from the left appeared to have eluded Jorge but the ball dropped at the feet of Mifsud Triganza who drove home.
Urged on by their fans and with the tiring Metalurg players looking vulnerable, Birkirkara maintained their momentum.
Haruna used his pace and strength to veer infield from the right wing before summoning a pulverising shot that was tipped away by the diving Pavlovic.
In stoppage time, Mifsud Triganza’s first-timer ended wide while Birkirkara claims for a penalty, after the ball appeared to glance off Ljubomir Stevanovic’s hands, were turned down by the referee.