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Valletta concede late goal to bow out of Champions League

Irakli Dzaria (no.33) scores FK Kukes's equaliser to send the Albanian side through. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Irakli Dzaria (no.33) scores FK Kukes's equaliser to send the Albanian side through. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Valletta      1

Malano 67

Kukes        1

Dzaria 82

Valletta were only minutes away from reaching the second qualifying round of the Champions League when Irakli Dzaria fired home the equaliser on 82 minutes to earn Albanian side Kukes a 1-1 draw that put them in the next round on the away goals rule.

It was a shattering outcome for the Citizens who had dominated the match for much of the 90 minutes.

After only five minutes Matteo Piciollo had a great opportunity when he latched onto Miguel Alba’s delivery from a corner but the Italian sent his firm header over from a few metres out.

Kukes responded on 26 minutes. Vangjel Zguro’s swerving cross from a free-kick created havoc in the City but luckily Joseph Zerafa was on hand to clear the danger.

Valletta finally threatened 11 minutes from the break when Santiago Malano nodded the ball into the path of Piciollo who fired over.

Five minutes later, it was Malano who came close when his cross-shot almost surprised Frasheri with the ball just missing the upright.

City’s pressure was finally rewarded with a breakthrough on 67 minutes.

Zerafa powered his way inside the area and he picked Malano on the edge of the area who fired a rasping volley in the bottom corner of the net.

The Albanians were stunned and they tried to mount a late rally but the Valletta defence stood firm.

Instead it was the hosts who came close to a second but Ryan Camilleri’s shot finished just over.

Still, Valletta’s dreams were shattered eight minutes from time when Bonello could only parry away Rumbullaku’s low drive and in came Irakli Dzaria to stab the ball home.

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