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Resilient Birkirkara bow out from Women’s Champions League

Vella 56 og.
Ciolacu 63

Sultana 45

Seppi; Stamate, Bratu, Ficzay, Negrea (46 Curtis), Ciolacu, Cerescu, Mirea (90 Botojel), Batea (82 Borodi), Marcu (90 Vincze), Balaceanu (46 Tabur).

J. Xuereb; Y. Vella, S. Farrugia, A. Said, M. Felice, T. Teuma, G. Zahra, A. Sultana, V. Mifsud, R. Giusti, C. Oduro (73 M. Cardona).

Referee Alexandra Deligianni (Greece).

Two goals after the break dashed Birkirkara’s hopes of a historic qualification into the next round of the UEFA Women’s Champions League against Olimpia Cluj.

The Romanian champions scored twice early after the break to secure a 2-1 win over a resilient Birkirkara team, that had found the opening goal on the brink of half-time.

In fact, Alishia Sultana’s goal had seen the Stripes go into the interval with a one-goal lead, unexpected prior the match but well-deserved for the performance they had in the opening half.

Nonetheless, Cluj’s quality came to the fore in the second half as they found the net twice, and had it not been for Janice Xuereb’s saves, they could have secured a more pronounced victory.

It was a fairly balanced first 45 minutes with Cluj and Birkirkara exchanging proceedings.

After an early 10-minute hiatus due to a referee injury, the match resumed with Birkirkara maintaining their composed shape on the field, almost breaking the duck through a Veronique Mifsud’s cross-shot on 22 minutes.

Cluj took 24 minutes to knock on Birkirkara’s door when Ciolacu let fly a long-range effort but failed to threaten Janice Xuereb.

Moments later, Ciolacu forced Xuereb into action with the Malta international goalkeeper blocking Cluj’s number 9 effort.

At the other end, Birkirkara had glorious one on one chance with Raina Giusti but she was controversially ruled in an offside position, although the Maltese player had missed her opportunity in front of the goalkeeper.

An Alishia Sultana’s effort that hit the crossbar send shivers down Cluj’s spine. The Romanians replied through another Ciolacu effort, which once again failed to hit the target.

When the first half seemed destined to finish in a goalless stalemate, Sultana hit the jackpot.

Christabel Oduro sent a low cross into the box on which Sultana capitalised from point-blank range to put the Stripes ahead just before the half-time whistle.

After the break, Cluj effected a couple of changes to increase their offensive presence and they made their pressure count on the 56th minute, even though through an unfortunate own goal from Yasmeen Vella.

Ciolacu remained Cluj’s main weapon and she almost turned the scoreline around just to see her strike from the edge of the area struck the crossbar.

However, Ciolacu was not to be denied when she attempted her luck with a firing shot that went past goalkeeper Xuereb to put Cluj 2-1 up.

On the 65th minute, Curtis squandered the chance to wrap up Cluj’s win when she failed to hit the target from inside the penalty area.

Cluj continued to pile up the pressure on the Stripes, with Tabur having a close-range effort diverted into corner.

In the closing stages of the game, the hosts maintained their high tempo in search of a third goal but Birkirkara’s resiliency and determination helped the Maltese to stay in the game even though they exited the competition at the final whistle.

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