GŻIRA UNITED 1
ATLETIC D’ ESCALDES 1
D. Zarkov, G. Bohrer, N. Muscat, Z. Scerri, M. Dias, L. Riascos (74 C. Gauci), T. Kolega, M. Cosic, Maxuell, Jefferson (77 E. Mbong), J. Mendoza (60 R. Correa).
ATLETIC CLUB d’ ESCALDES
A. Campagne, A. Cistero, A. Rodriguez, H. Bouharma (68 X. Puerto), G. Lopez (90 D Lopez), J. Bolivar Cano (68 A. Martinez), V. Becerra (90 E. Naranjo), I. Garrido, J. Aguilera, V. Alonso (81 G. Vieira), V. Madueno.
Referee: Z. Hovhannisyan (Armenia FA).
Yellow cards: Becerra, Riascos, Aguilera, Muscat, Lopez.
Gżira United stayed in contention to reach the second qualifying round of the Europa Conference league after gaining a 1-1 draw against debutants Atletic Club d’Escaldes at the Centenary Stadium.
Yet their cause was complicated with this draw as they now need to win in Andorra next week to set up a showdown with Serbian side FK Radnicki.
Gżira United coach Darren Abdilla had done well to assemble a strong squad after the departures of Antonio Pavic and Yuri Messias, and the unavailability of Steve Pisani and Nevin Portelli.
He handed a debut to new signing Marcelo Dias and Luis Riascos, who was returning to the club for a second spell.
Abdilla opted for a 5-3-2 formation with Toni Kolega filling as make-shift left back while Dias manned the right flank. Riascos played alongside Jackson Mendoza and Zach Scerri in front of the defence.
Atletic were off to a blistering start when inside the opening minutes, Darijan Zarkov, had to be alert to keep out an effort from Ivan Garrido.
As the minutes ticked by, the Maroons started coming more into the picture and Riascos headed just wide from a free-kick by Nikolai Muscat on 33 minutes.
Just before half-time, Zarkov came to Gżira’s rescue when the Croatian goalkeeper produced a fine reflex save to keep out Lopzez’s firm header.
Gżira had the better of the exchanges but lacked the cutting edge when it came to putting away their goalscoring chances
Their cause received a boost when Jefferson fired the Maroons ahead early in the second half.
Abdilla’s men took just 41 seconds to take the lead when Maxuell’s attempt took a deflection into the path of the Brazilian striker who spotting Alejandro Campagne, out of position, hit the ball masterfully into the net.
Gżira’s fury fizzled out and, to make matters worse, Guillaume Lopez equalised when profiting from a fortuitous deflection off Jefferson, he charged into the box and hit an angled drive past Zarkov to level the score.
Atletic’s equaliser failed to spur Gżira to a reaction as the Maroons struggled to create any openings as the stalemate prevailed.
Gżira might feel disappointed about the result, but qualification is still within their reach if they win in Andorra.
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