Three more Challenge League teams reach first round of Izibet FA Trophy
Naxxar Lions 1 San Gwann 1
(Naxxar Lions winners after penalty kicks: 6-5)
Last Wednesday night, Naxxar had the better of San Gwann in an eventful Trophy game which went from extra time to penalties. Although there was not much difference in strength, San Gwann definitely had the better chances throughout the match and therefore should have decided the game already during regular time. After seven minutes, Mead Mifsud thought to have scored for Naxxar after being sent through but somehow Cain Formosa saved his effort with his feet from the fatal goal line. San Gwann saw more of the ball in the first half, with Naxxar creating very little danger in their box. Immediately after the break, Benjamin Hili could have put San Gwann 1-0 up but the Gozitan striker missed from an ideal position. On 64 minutes, an Edson Farias header from close-range was saved well by Formosa. Substitute Skender Loshi wasted another chance for San Gwann on 72 minutes. One minute later however, Loshi scored the opener after Naxxar goalkeeper Andre Fenech failed to get hold of a Dale Mifsud pale driver, with Loshi having the easiest of tasks to bury the goal home into the empty net. Naxxar equalised on 81 minutes when Farias was first to pick up a loose ball in the San Gwann box, drilling past Formosa. Mead Mifsud’s thunderbolt on 88 minutes hit the crossbar, a shot which looked destined for the winner. Deep into added time, Farias could have sent Naxxar through after some great work by Saldanha on the left flank but the Brazilian striker’s shot was blocked by Formosa. Both Naxxar and San Gwann played full on the attack but failed to score in extra time, which meant penalties had to bring the decision. The first ten players did not fail, but it was Kyle Bartolo who hit the crossbar for San Gwann, with young Jean-Louis Cassar who, as cool as ice, sent Formosa the wrong way.
Earlier this month there were two more FA Trophy games, with St Andrews beating Amateur League outfit Zurrieq on the 15th and one day later, Pieta' Hotspurs beat Rabat Ajax after penalties
Zurrieq 1 St Andrews 3
Despite leaving their established players on the bench, St Andrews had little trouble to move aside Amateur League team Zurrieq, a fully deserved qualification. St Andrews opened well, built up attack after attack and took the lead on 12 minutes. Alan Borg-Olivier’s cross was perfectly headed past Zurrieq custodian Carmelo Caruana from close-range by Malcolm Vella-Vidal. On 26 minutes, against the run of play, Zurrieq equalised and what a goal it was. Andre-Joe Cutajar, Zurrieq’s best player on the night, dribbled his way on the right flank through the St Andrews defence, releasing a thunderbolt from about 20 meters distance which ended up top corner, a picture goal. This equaliser clearly disturbed St Andrews’ rhythm, with Zurrieq settling down nicely. On the stroke of half-time, Giovanni Galea wasted two goal scoring opportunities. First, the lanky forward could not finish off an accurate Gianpiero Tozzolino pass, while barely a minute later, Galea was sent through with only Nicholas Grima to beat, but the St Andrews custodian blocked his attempt. Deep into added time of the first half, Grima performed another great save on a Kurt Galea header, tipping his attempt over the crossbar. Both teams continued to share the exchanges after the break, but it was St Andrews who regained the lead on the hour mark, thanks to a grounder from close range by Santiago Martinez, after being set up by Liam Grech. Twelve minutes later, Cutajar’s shot from the edge of the box just missed target. But barely a minute later it was St Andrews who added a third thanks to a Jamie Sixsmith grounder. This goal took the interest out of the match and with three minutes regular time on the clock, Caruana blocked the attempt of Zak Muscat, who was sent through but failed to find the net. Substitute England could have added a fourth after an inch perfect pass of Matthew Bartolo deep into added time but failed to find target.
Pieta’ Hotspurs 2 Rabat Ajax 2 aet
(Pieta’ Hotspurs winners after penalty kicks: 4-2)
Pieta’ Hotspurs also qualified for the 1st round of the FA Trophy thanks to a victory over Rabat Ajax after the two teams played out an eventful encounter on Thursday 16 December. Both teams left many regulars out of the team, there were in fact no less than seven players who made their senior debut on the night, two on the side of Pieta and five for the Magpies. The Hotspurs kept the Rabat rear-guard under constant pressure during the first half but Rabat goalkeeper Kyle Barbara, one of the debutants, performed a series of fine saves. Mid-way through the first half, Hiroya Konno missed an incredible chance to put Pieta’ ahead, concluding wide with the open goal at his mercy. However, on 37 minutes, Konno served Yuto Morita who slotted the ball past Barbara from close range to hand them the lead. Ten minutes in the second half, Rabat levelled matters through Miguel Aquilina whose fine rising shot from the left gave goalkeeper Miguel Chetcuti no chance. However, the Hotspurs regained the lead on 63 minutes courtesy of Yuto Morita who received an assist on the left and advanced into the area before hitting low past the Rabat custodian. Six minutes from time, Hiroya Konno hit the upright for Pieta’ with a shot from the right but it was not over yet as one minute in added time, the Magpies notched the equaliser thanks to a great freekick by Manuel Bustos to force extra-time. Towards the end of the first half of extra-time, Adam Smeir hit the crossbar for Rabat and seven minutes in the second half of extra-time, Pieta’ striker Paul Lapira had a shot from the right deflected by the goalkeeper to hit the foot of the upright. Two minutes from time, Gaston Poncet hit the woodwork. Lapira, Daniel Zerafa, Zean Leonardi and Kian Leonardi scored the four penalties for the Hotspurs while Elmir Lekaj and Poncet scored the first two for the Magpies with Bustos and Nicolai Attard both hitting high.
FA Trophy 1st Round
The following 32 teams will participate in the draw for the 1st round of the 2021/22 Izibet FA Trophy, to be played in the third weekend of January 2022:
From the Preliminary Round:
Zebbug Rangers, St George's, Melita, Tarxien Rainbows, Marsaxlokk, Vittoriosa Stars, Fgura United, St Andrews, Pieta' Hotspurs, Naxxar Lions (BOV National Challenge League), Marsaskala, Zabbar St Patrick (National Amateur League), Nadur Youngsters and Xewkija Tigers (BOV Gozo FA 1st Division)
The following teams received a 'bye' for the Preliminary Round:
Pembroke Athleta, Zejtun Corinthians, Luqa St Andrew's, Marsa, Swieqi United (BOV Challenge League), Ghajnsielem (BOV Gozo FA 1st Division) and all 12 BOV Premier Division teams.
Images copyright by Stephen Gatt