GŻIRA UNITED 0
J. Haber; D. Xuereb, G. Bohrer, S. Borg (86 L. Tabone), T. Espindola, S. Pisani (88 Judivan), J. Mendoza, Z. Scerri, R. Correa (68 Jefferson), Maxuell, M. Davis.
Labrovic; Vukcevic, Golovic, J. Escoval, Tomecak, Pavicic, Lepinijca, Liber (46 Busnja), Ampem (90 Galesic), Drmic (56 Obregon), Muric (67 Vuk).
Referee Neil Doyle (Ireland FA).
Yellow cards Liber, Pisani, Lepinjica, Davis, Escoval, Mendoza, Busnja, Xuereb.
Red card I. Lepinjica (R) 87.
Gżira United’s chances of progressing into the next round of the UEFA Europa Conference League were dealt a heavy blow after succumbing to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Croatian side Rijeka.
Darren Abdilla’s side exchanged proceedings with the Croatian side in the opening stages of the game, but as time went by Rijeka were starting to take control.
Rijeka’s goal on the hour mark did not demoralise Gzira who still managed to stage a reaction in an attempt to level terms.
Nonetheless, Rijeka managed to double the lead after pouncing on a Justin Haber mistake to make a bold step towards the third qualifying round.
Rijeka made their intentions clear as they tried to push forward for an early lead but it was Gżira who registered the first chance of the game with a Dexter Xuereb shot from the edge of the area which went wide.
As time went by, the game was fairly-balanced with both teams relying on long balls to bypass the opponents’ pressing.
Rijeka had a great chance dropping on Drmic’s feet but his close-range shot was blocked by a Gżira defender.
On the 23rd minute, the Maroons had a free-kick from Jackson Mendoza but the latter’s set-piece was smothered by the Rijeka goalkeeper.
Moments later, Ampem forced Haber into action when the Rijeka player tried a curling effort which the Gżira goalkeeper managed to block.
Haber came to the rescue again when he denied Muric who let fly a shot from the edge of the area.
On the brink of half-time, Rijeka missed a flurry of quick chances to forge ahead when they caught Gżira on the break but the Maroons’ backline managed to recover and deny the Croatian side as the first 45 minutes ended in a goalless stalemate.
At the restart, Maxuell tried his luck with a long-range effort that sailed over the bar. At the other end, Haber was once again instrumental for Gżira with a save on Tomecak thumping volley.
In the 54th minute, Ricardo Correa tried a solo effort but his shot was deflected into corner as Gżira were looking to inch their way up the field.
However, it was Rijeka who scored through substitute Busnja who capitalised on Tomecak’s cross.
Gżira’s reply came swiftly from Martin Davis who attempted a long-range shot that almost stunned Rijeka goalkeeper, but unfortunately he could not level terms for the Maltese side.
Thiago Espindola came closest to equalise for Gżira with a well-hit strike that the Rijeka finger tipped into corner.
Yet, it was Rijeka who scored the game’s next goal, putting themselves into the driving seat to advance into the next round.
Haber’s tentative clearance was blocked by Obregon who regained possession and directed the ball towards Ampem who slotted into an empty net.
In the final minutes of the game, Rijeka finished with ten men after Lepinjica was given a second yellow card.
Nonetheless, it was too late for Gżira to try and profit from their numerical advantage as they will head into the second leg with a two-goal deficit to recover.