Maltese Champions Birkirkara FC shared the spoils with Azerbijan’s side Khazar Lankaran FK in a friendly match played at the Sirens Stadium last Saturday evening.

With the Stripes in their final preparations for the first leg of the second round of the UEFA Champions League, and with the Azerbijan’s side hoping to remain in the best form for the second leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League, both sides produced a fine performance in an entertaining match.

In the Euro Cup matches, Birkirkara fielded a squad full of youngsters, but for this match, Mr. Paul Zammit opted to have a better view of his present squad as he chose the best elements in the first eleven and then began to introduce youngsters at a late stage of the second half.

The match saw both teams exchanging possession, and for long stretches, the match was very balanced with no team dominating. The Stripes played an excellent possession game especially in the first half. A series of quick-short passes and movement without the ball were essential for the Champions to enjoy a slight edge over their opponents at some moments of the match.

The rhythm of the match decreased a bit in the second half, but after Khazar Lankaran managed to break the dead-lock after they converted a penalty, the Stripes stayed strong and reacted well to score the equalising goal to avoid defeat.

Birkirkara had Nikola Vukanac back in the squad with two defenders currently on trial, Spanish defender Ricardo Jimenez who was chosen in the first eleven selection, and Brazilian defender Jonathan Maciel who was included in the second half. Defender Joseph Zerafa and midfielders Gareth Sciberras and Ryan Scicluna were missing for the Stripes.

The Stripes’ latest signing, Frank Temile was available for selection and he made his first appearance way with our Club as he was included as a substitute in the second half.

The First Half

The match began with a good rhythm, and the Stripes opened well as they created their first opportunity on the 7th minute when following a short clearance, Shola Shodiya fired a ferocious shot from inside the box which forced the goalkeeper to make a great save.

Just less than a minute later, Birkirkara were on the attack once against as the Stripes created a fine combination concluded by Edward Herrera serving Paul Fenech, whose long distance shot ended wide.

Birkirkara were comfortable with keeping possession and moving the ball around and were playing entertaining football.

Close to the 15th minute mark, the visitors created their first opportunity, with a powerful shot from inside the box which brought the best out of goalkeeper Justin Haber, who performed a great save tipping the ball into a corner kick.

Five minutes later, the Stripes replied, and it was their turn to come close to surging ahead. Following a series of short passes, Shola Shodiya served Paul Fenech in space but the goalkeeper anticipated well.

The first half hour of the match produced good football with the Stripes opting to play the possession game.

Nine minutes from half time, Birkirkara were awarded a free-kick. Ryan Camenzuli served Paul Fenechwhose powerful shot was saved by the goalkeeper.

On the 40th minute, Shola Shodiya won a ball in Khazan’s rear guard area, advanced well but his concluding shot was too weak to worry the goalkeeper.

The half time whistle brought to an end the first entertaining half , with the score reading 0-0. It was certainly a satisfactory forty-five minutes for the Stripes who exchanged possession with the opponents and at some moments even enjoyed a slight edge.

The Second Half

In the second half, Mr. Paul Zammit made two changes. Frank Temile and Jonathan Maciel replacedEdward Herrera and Ricardo Jimenez.

Just three minutes in the second half, Birkirkara should have taken the lead. Shola Shodiya showed great skill when he rounded a defender and fired a low shot which was well saved by the goalkeeper.

On the 51st minute, off a corner from the left, Zach Muscat served Jonathan Maciel whose volley ended over.

However, against the run of the play, it was Khazar Lankaran who took the lead on the hour mark. Referee Alan Mario Sant judged Zach Muscat to have handled the ball inside the box and ordered a penalty which Marin Orsulic converted to put Khazar Lankaran in the lead.

Mr. Paul Zammit made the third change eighteen minutes in the second half as Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza replaced Demba Toure. Five minutes later, Michael Camilleri replaced Ryan Camenzuli.

Despite falling behind, the Stripes refused the give up and their resilience was awarded with the equalizing goal on the 73rd minute. Off a short corner, Frank Temile sent a perfect low cross-shot which Alejandro Mendoza connected perfectly with it, to give the goalkeeper no chance. The score was now level.

On the 79th minute, David Spiteri replaced Shola Shodiya in Birkirkara’s fifth substitution. Three minutes later, Reuben Gauci replaced Justin Haber between the posts.

Khazar were unlucky not to regain the lead five minutes from the end thanks to wonderful shot which beat Gauci but was denied by the crossbar.

Moments later, on the 85th minute, Zach Muscat was replaced by Kurt Zammit in the Stripes’ seventh and last substitution.

With neither of the sides producing any drama in the final moments, referee Alan Mario Sant’s whistle saw both teams ending odds even with the Stripes leaving the pitch applauded by their supporters for their satisfying performance, which fills them with hope in these last days before the UEFA Champions League’s commitments.

Birkirkara: Justin Haber (82’ Reuben Gauci), Nikola Vukanac, Ricardo Jimenez (45′ Jonathan Maciel),Alejandro Mendoza, Ryan Camenzuli (68′ Michael Camilleri) Edward Herrera (45′ Frank Temile), Paul Fenech, Rowen Muscat, Zach Muscat (85′ Kurt Zammit), Demba Toure (63’ Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza),Shola Shodiya (79’ David Spiteri).

Scorers: 60′ Marin Orsulic (Khazan Lankaran) 73’ Alejandro Mendoza (Birkirkara).

Article by Ayrton Galea
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