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Maribor land late double blow to end Birkirkara’s Euro dream


Yankam 19 pen.


Jakupovic 80

Skuka 88

(Maribor win 3-2 on aggregate)


M. Zapytowski, J. Pajovic, A. Coppola, E. Pepe, D. Ribeiro (55 I. Montano), E. Pena Beltre, Y. Yankam, S. Zibo, N. Micallef (90 J. Valletta), J. Mbong (54 K. Zammit), A. Ciolacu (87 Weverton).


A. Jug, I. Urata, L. Uskokovic, M. Watson, M. Milec, M. Bozic (46 M. Lausic), M. Lorber (63 X. Skuka), J. Repas, I. Rafiu (46 A. Jakupovic), I. Brnic, M. Kolar.

Referee: Martin Dohal (Slovakia).

Yellow cards Pepe, Pajovic, Uskokovic.

Two late goals scored by Maribor substitutes Jakupovic and Skuka shattered Birkirkara’s dream of progressing into the second qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League as the Slovenian side secured a 2-1 win.

It was a heartbreaking outfit for the Stripes who for long spells during the match were the better team against their more-quoted opponents but Maribor’s superior physical qualities made all the difference in a match that was played in scorching heat at the Centenary Stadium.

After last week’s 1-1 draw in Slovenia, Birkirkara looked on their way to a stunning qualification when they took a deserved lead courtesy of a Yannick Yankam penalty goal.

But the team’s failure to grab a second goal proved fatal for the Stripes as Maribor grew in stature after the break and two goals in the final ten minutes earned the Slovenian side a 2-1 win and a 3-2 aggregate win.

Birkirkara coach Giovanni Tedesco, who could not lead the team from the bench due to suspension, kept faith with the same 11 players that played so well in the first leg last week, with the only difference being in the tactical set up as the Stripes were more keen on pushing forward in search of a vital goal that can hand them qualification.

The Stripes started brightly and after 11 minutes of play, Enmy Pena Beltre sent a dipping cross into the path of Jovan Pajovic who, however, directed his header over the bar.

Birkirkara looked on top and on 19 minues they managed to forge ahead.

In a quick break, the excellent Paul Mbong fed the ball to Andrei Ciolacu and the Romanian striker showed great agility to turn past his marker but his shot was blocked by the arms of Maribor defender Max Watson inside the area with the referee pointing to the spot.

Yannick Yankam stepped up for the kick and drilled the ball past the diving Maribor goalkeeper Azbe Jug.

After that breakthrough, Birkirkara continued to play diligently as they focused on administering the control of the ball, limiting their opponents’ opening towards their goal.

In fact, scoring chances were few and far between with Maribor rarely threatening the Birkirkara goal.

After the break, Maribor started to pile up the pressure on the hosts’ defence in their bid to turn the tie around.

Birkirkara suffered a blow ten minutes into the second half when Mbong was withdrawn with a heat stroke and was replaced by Kurt Zammit.

Maribor started to increase the pressure and on 62 minutes they came close to equalising when Urata picked Brnic inside the area but his header hit a Birkirkara defender before finishing just wide.

Maribor had an even better chance of 74 minutes when substitute Jakupovic found himself in space inside the area and with only the Birkirkara goalkeeper to beat he fired wide.

The Slovenian side’s pressure finally yielded a second goal ten minutes from time when Brnic sent a fine cross into the path of Jakupovic who adjusted his body in the air to direct the ball into the net.

The goal hit hard Birkirkara and inevitably injected more life into the Maribor players.

Ital Montano came close for the Stripes when he hit a rasping drive from the distance that was saved in two attempts by Jug.

But it was Maribor who struck the winner two minutes from time, and what a goal it was. Substitute Jakupovic released Skuka who outsprinted his marker, turned past Zapytowski, and blasted the ball into the net.

Birkirkara tried hard to salvage the match but they could not find an equaliser as their European dream come to a heartbreaking end.


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