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Unlucky Valletta face uphill struggle

Valletta defender Daniel Theuma tackles KS Teuta skipper Olgert Muka.

Valletta defender Daniel Theuma tackles KS Teuta skipper Olgert Muka.

Valletta 1
KS Teuta 2

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Valletta's hopes of progressing to the second round of the Intertoto Cup suffered a huge blow yesterday when the Citizens were defeated by KS Teuta by the odd goal in three in the first leg at the Hibernians Ground.

The Citizens will certainly feel hard done by the result as it was they who played the better football throughout yesterday's tie, creating enough chances to at least earn a draw.

Falling behind after just 10 minutes, left the Citizens facing an uphill struggle. Valletta did improve as the game progressed, but another soft goal 18 minutes from the end put paid to their hopes. Now, they travel to Albania knowing that anything short of a victory would end their Intertoto Cup adventure.

Dennis Fenech was yesterday making his official debut as Valletta coach since taking over the reins from Bulgarian mentor Georgi Deanov, whose contract was not renewed by the Citizens.

The former Senglea mentor had to dig deep into his resources ahead of yesterday's match due to the absence of the injured duo Ivan Zammit and David Carabott, while Jeffrey Chetcuti and Darren Debono were not named in the 18-man squad.

Fenech opted for a three-man defence composed of Renie Forace, Nicky Saliba and Daniel Theuma with youngster Jonathan Bondin and Edward Azzopardi patrolling the flanks.

Kris Laferla, Kamil Dvorak and Karl Bonnici ran the engine room with Gilbert Agius supporting Chris Oretan in attack.

Valletta's intentions at the start of the match were to control their opponents and try to hit them on the break. However, 10 minutes into the match, KS Teuta nosed ahead. Olgert Muka broke free on the left and his cross was perfectly met by Gentian Begeja whose glancing header gave Valletta goalkeeper Ernest Barry no chance.

Valletta's reply arrived in the 18th minute when Agius headed over an Azzopardi cross. The Citizens held most of the possession but found it very hard to break down the solid Albanian rearguard.

Fenech's men threatened again on 29 minutes when Agius' long pass found Oretan who powered his way into the area but shot weakly into the hands of Orges Shehi.

Two minutes later the ball finished into Valletta's net for the second time when Begeja beat Barry from close range. However, the goal was ruled out for an offside infringement.

Valletta continued to hold the initiative and six minutes from the break Oretan was at the end of another elaborate Valletta move but his header was easily saved by Shehi.

At this stage, Fenech opted to draft in youngster Antoine Sacco at the expense of Edward Azzopardi. The onus was on Valletta to level the score and three minutes from the break Forace tried his luck with a low shot that ended just wide.

The fourth official signalled six minutes of added time during which the Citizens forced a series of corners which failed to procure an equaliser. Just before the half-time whistle Agius saw his angled shot finish just wide.

Valletta started the second half in the same attacking vein. Barely a minute passed when Sacco's cross-shot was blocked by Shehi.

Valletta were unlucky not to draw level on 57 minutes when Bonnici released Agius just inside the area but his volley was brilliantly fisted away by Shehi. Two minutes later, the lively Agius was again denied by Shehi after a good interchange with Oretan.

Despite being on the backfoot for most of the second half, the Albanians still looked menacing in their counter-attacks. In a rare breakaway, it was the Albanians who struck against the run of play. It was in the 72nd minute when Shpetim Imeraj collected the ball just outside the area and his curling shot sailed past Barry.

KS Teuta's second goal looked to have dealt a killer blow to the Valletta players' morale. Eight minutes from time, Teuta finished with ten men when Babamusta was sent off after receiving his second yellow card.

Shehi continued to foil the Valletta forwards when on 80 minutes he effected another fine save on an Agius short-range effort. However, from the ensuing corner the Albanian goalie handed a lifeline to the Citizens when he fumbled Agius' swerving drive, the ball finishing in the net.

In time added on, the gritty Citizens seemed to have equalised when an Agius shot took a deflection towards the low corner of the net, but the Albanian goalkeeper dived to his left to push the ball out in extremis.

More agony was in store for Valletta in the dying minutes when Dvorak was dismissed after committing a second bookable offence. In the 93rd minute, Okoro's attempt to divert a powerful shot by Oretan towards goal sailed well over the crossbar. For Valletta it was not to be.

Valletta: E. Barry, N. Saliba, D. Theuma, R. Forace, J. Bondin (S. Pace), K. Dvorak, K. Bonnici (M. Okoro), E. Azzopardi (A. Sacco), K. Laferla, C. Oretan, G. Agius.

KS Teuta: O. Shehi, M. Xha, A. Zere, S. Imeraj, E. Kotomelo (H. Rexheti), O. Muka, A. Toshkallari, M. Memelli (V. Ballco), G. Begeja (J. Bespallov), A. Cungu, D. Babamusta.

Referee: Josep Prodes (Andorra).

Scorers: Begeja 10th, Imeraj 72nd; Agius 81st.

Yellow Cards: Toshkallari, Babamusta, Rexheti, Bespallov, Shehi; Dvorak.

Red Cards: Babamusta 82nd; Dvorak 90th.

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