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Ulisses thwart sprightly Stripes

Miccoli makes debut for Birkirkara

Birkirkara’s Fabrizio Miccoli (centre) passes the ball forward against Ulisses at the Hibs Stadium, yesterday. Photo: Chris Sant FournierBirkirkara’s Fabrizio Miccoli (centre) passes the ball forward against Ulisses at the Hibs Stadium, yesterday. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Birkirkara 0
Ulisses FC 0

Birkirkara left the Hibs Stadium with their heads held high after an inspiring display that drew admiration from all those present, not least the Stripes supporters who serenaded their players with chants of ‘Birkirkara Ole’ Ole’ at the end of the game yesterday.

Their failure to get a goal gives Ulisses FC the edge ahead of next week’s second leg in Armenia but this should not detract from Birkirkara’s showing, one that was crowned with the debut of Fabrizio Miccoli who came on as a second-half substitute.

Birkirkara not only limited the attacking threat of their opponents but fashioned the better opportunities with Vito Plut and Zach Muscat both coming close to breaking the deadlock.

Wary of Ulisses’s strength, Tedesco opted to crowd the midfield with Paul Fenech performing screening duties in front of the defence and Rowen Muscat and Edmond Agius in front of him.

Ryan Camenzuli and Liliu were positioned on the flanks while Vito Plut was Birkirkara’s lone forward in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Ulisses dominated possession in the opening stages. Their better start almost yielded an early goal inside the first five minutes when David Khurtsizde tried to surprise goalkeeper Justin Haber with a dipping shot that ended just wide.

Fenech was soon cutting an authorative figure in the heart of the five-man midfield, winning important interceptions while Rowen Muscat was allowed to push forward from midfield as the Stripes tried to work their way into the game.

Past the quarter of an hour mark, Rowen Muscat’s looping ball fell to Plut just outside the area and the Slovenian set off on a run but was quickly closed down by the onrushing goalkeeper Arsen Beglaryan.

Tedesco started to shout instructions to ensure that the team did not lose their grip on the match.

In fact, another quick Birkirkara attack prised open the Armenian defence as Rowen Muscat surged forward before passing the ball to Ryan Camenzuli but the latter’s effort was kept out by the defence.

Ten minutes from the break, Tedesco was forced to make his first substitution as Haber suffered a foot injury after an aerial duel with Nika Piliev and was replaced by Ini Akpan.

A minute from half-time, Fenech’s free-kick whizzed across the face of goal before landing wide of the far post to the disbelief of the Birkirkara fans.

The Stripes remained the brisker side as Plut sped clear but was denied by Beglaryan with the ball falling to Rowen Muscat who saw his lob finish well off the mark.

Ulisses forced the tempo after the interval. They should have opened the score when Irakliy Geperidze slipped a through-ball to Khurtsidze who cut inside from the left but his rising shot finished just over.

Shy the hour mark, Agius caught Aleksanyan Artak in possession in midfield and played a through-ball to Plut but his effort finished on the side-netting.

Edin Murga came on for Plut for the final 25 minutes and the Bosnian forward was quickly into the thick of action as he nudged the ball off an Armenian midfielder before laying the ball to Liliu whose effort was blocked by a sliding tackle from Geperidze.

The moment every Birkirkara had been waiting for arrived on 71 minutes when Miccoli replaced Agius.

Miccoli started causing the Ulisses defenders all sorts of problems with his delicious touches.

On 72 minutes, his inswinger caused havoc in the Armenian box but Beglaryan produced a top save to deny Fenech from close-range.

Miccoli’s ability was there for all to see eight minutes later, when his cross caught Ulisses defenders wrong-footed again and Zach Muscat darted in to flash a header which finished just wide off the far post.

When Ivan Marmakhanov sent Liliu crashing to the ground for Birkirkara’s last venture towards the Ulisses penalty area, the free-kick was awarded in Miccoli territory.

But the Italian’s shot hit the wall as the Stripes had to settle for a goalless draw.

Birkirkara
J. Haber (35 I. Akpan), J. Zerafa, N. Vukanac, M. Mazzetti, P. Fenech, Z. Muscat, R. Muscat, R. Camenzuli, Liliu, V. Plut (64 E. Murga), E. Agius (71 F. Miccoli).

Ulisses FC
A. Beglaryan, I. Chezhia, D. Khurtsidze, I. Geperidze (88 R. Kalimullin), N. Piliev (61 J. Tshibamba), A. Aleksanyan, I. Mama-khanov, R. Dugalic, K. Morozov, L. Dzha-rkava, G. Khubua (78 A. Belomyttsev).

Referee: Erez Papir (Israel FA).

Yellow cards: Chezhia, Geperidze, Dugalic, Fenech, Marmakhanov.

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