OLIMIPIJA LJUBLJANA 1
N. Vidmar, E. Boakye, D. Milnar, E. Gliha (62 M. Pavlovic), T. Elsbik (21 N. Kapun), S. Seslar (88 E. Ostrc), T. Tomic, Aldair, M. Nukic, S. Petrov (62 G. Kurez).
D. Fernandes, K. Zammit, E. Pepe, O. Carniello, C. Attard, Y. Yankam, D. Venancio, R. Briffa (84 Jeferson), C. Bonanni (73 R, Scicluna), L. Montebello, F. Falcone.
Referee David Fuxman (Israel).
Yellow cards Zammit, Venancio, Tomic.
A Mustafa Nukic goal 12 minutes from time denied Birkirkara from clinching a positive result in the opening leg of their UEFA Conference League tie against Olimpija Ljubljana as the Slovenians eked out a 1-0 win.
It was a disappointing result for the Stripes who seemed to have done enough to keep at bay their opponents with a very solid defensive display but a rare lapse in defence in the closing stages cost them dearly the hosts clinched the winner that earned them the edge ahead of next week’s second leg at the Centenary Stadium.
However, the Birkirkara players will surely feel positive about their chances of upsetting their more-quoted opponents as they shared proceedings for much of the match and if they show more ambition when trying to push forward they can create problems to the Slovenian outfit.
Birkirkara coach Andre Paus kept faith to the same starting XI that drew against La Fiorita in the UEFA Conference League first qualifying round last week.
As expected it was Olimpija Ljubljana who held control of proceedings right from the outset with the Stripes showing good tactical organisation to try and close avenues to the Slovenian outfit.
Ljubljana should have taken the lead after five minutes of play when a great throughball from Aldair put forward Mustafa Nukic who was clean through but the forward was denied by an excellent block from Daniel Fernandes, the Birkirkara goalkeeper.
After that early scare, Birkirkara started to show better defensive discipline, holding the ball well without never letting the hosts creating scoring chances.
Olimpija coach Savo Milosevic, the former Aston Villa forward, was forced to make his first change on 21 minutes when skipper Timi Elsnik limped out injured and was replaced by Nik Kapun.
The Slovenians had another opportunity on 26 minutes when they were awarded a free-kick on the left channel. Aldair tried to surprise Fernandes with a low shot on the near post but Luke Montebello was on hand to clear the danger.
The hosts kept pressing but could not get another serious sniff at goal until half-time as Birkirkara were showing remarkable organization.
Birkirkara had a chance on 56 minutes when Cain Attard found Yannik Yankam inside the area but the young midfielder headed over.
Seventeen minutes from time, Paus withdrew the tiring Claudio Bonanni and roped in Ryan Scicluna in a bid to add more energy to his team’s defensive lines.
A rare lapse by the Birkirkara defence proved costly 12 minutes from time when Nukic was given time and space to control the ball inside the area and the towering striker fired the ball past the diving Fernandes.
The home side came close to a second goal six minutes from time when Aldair let fly a thumping drive that was touched by Fernandes onto the bar.
In stoppage time, Birkirkara had a chance when they were awarded a central free-kick but Diego Venancio’s shot finished just over.