Floriana rewrote the clubs’ history books last night after they edged past Linfield at Windsor Park to reach the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Mathias Garcia was Floriana’s hero as the Argentine midfielder fired home the winner after only ten minutes of play to hand his team a place in the next round where they will face Estonian side Flora Tallinn.
It was a fine performance from the Malta champions who looked in control for much of the game even though they had to be grateful to a couple of fine stops from goalkeeper Ini Akpan, particularly deep into stoppage time, to hold on to their win.
But all in all, the Greens should be pleased with their display as they have become only the third Maltese team to reach the third qualifying round of the Europa League after Birkirkara and Valletta.
Floriana coach Enzo Potenza named his strongest formation for the clash against Linfield with Marcelo Dias and Brandon Paiber taking their place on the flanks for their first European appearance from the start this summer after they had started on the bench in the 2-0 defeat to CFR Cluj.
The Greens settled down quickly into the match and they soon left their mark after ten minutes of play when they took the lead.
Ryan Camenzuli picked Thiago Fonseca on the edge of the area and the Argentine forward quickly laid the ball into the path of the sprinting Mathias Garcia who hit a low drive that rolled past Linfield goalkeeper Christopher Johns.
The home side looked stunned and they struggled to play any sort of flowing football to the delight of Floriana who were easily dominating the opening stages.
In fact, on 16 minutes Paiber almost put his name on the scoresheet but his shot from the edge of the area finished wide.
The home side almost drew level a minute later when Akpan misjudged a cross from a free-kick but luckily for the visitors Jimmy Callacher fired into the sidenetting.
Linfield tried to get back into the match but for all their efforts they struggled to create any problems to the Floriana defence.
In fact, the home side had to wait until the stroke of half-time to have a shot on target when Navid Nasseri hit a firm drive that was saved by Akpan.
After the break, Linfield came out firing and inside the first minute they almost drew level when Shayne Lavery outpaced Enzo Ruiz, but the forward was denied by the onrushing Akpan.
The hosts had even a better chance a minute later when Floriana failed to clear a cross and the ball fell to Stephen Fallon who from two metres out was denied by a fine reflex save by Akpan.
The ball fell to Bastien Hery who incredibly fired over in front of a gaping goal.
Floriana finally responded on the hour mark when Diego Venancio hit a long-range shot that flashed wide.
At the other end, Lavery saw his effort saved by Akpan.
Linfield were clearing showing much better fare but the Greens were still managing to keep them out.
Floriana’s night got better 17 minutes from time when Ross Larkin picked up a second booking for bringing down substitute Ulisses Arias to leave the hosts with ten men.
Linfield protested for a penalty four minutes from time when Lavery whas challenge by substitute Moustapha Beye but the referee saw nothing untoward and waved play on.
In stoppage time, Akpan saved the result for Floriana when he somehow kept out Callacher’s close-range header.
Minutes later the final whistle arrived as the Greens players could celebrate an historic European night for their club.