Disputed referee’s decisions hurt Paolites’ hopes of historic qualification
RIGA FC 4
Leo 49; Paurevic 90+6
Muritala 105, 115
(after extra-time Riga FC win 4-2 on aggregate)
I. Kone; F. Apap (106 E. Beu), L. Almeida, S. Raphael (119 F. Mensah), J. Grech, J. Degabriele (119 Z. Grech), B. Kristensen (79 E. Uzeh), D. Vella (64 A. Attard), Thaylor, A. Agius, W. Domoraud.
I. Brkic; C. Saiz, F. Brisola (98 N. Piscevic), A. Petersons, M. Soisalo, I. Paurevic, Y. Vakulko (76 Y. Muritala), M. Ngonda (114 R. Rugins), J. Leo, W. Nata (60 Kamess), A. Cernomordijs.
Referee Rob Hennessy (Ireland FA)
Yellow cards Kristensen, Almeida, Grech, Nata, Domoraud, Degabriele, Paurevic, Agius.
Red card Grech (H) 90, Kamess (R) 111.
Missed penalty I. Paurevic (R) 2.
So close, yet so far for Hibernians and Maltese football to qualify into the play-off stage of a UEFA club competition after the Paolites suffered a heartbreaking elimination at the hands of Latvian side Riga FC.
The Paolites were one minute away from advancing into the next round but a 96th minute goal from Ivan Paurevic sent the game into extra-time before Riga added another one in the additional 30 minutes to set up a play-off tie against Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps.
But the match was marked by a number of controversial decisions from Irish referee Rob Hennessy who annulled what looked like a perfectly legitimate second goal for Degabriele that would have put the Paolites two goals up and surely on the verge of qualification.
Such decisions inevitably contributed for the Paolites to lose their cool as they lost Bjorn Kristensen, Jaked Grech and coach Stefano Sanderra who were dismissed by the Irish referee leaving them with a mountain to climb.
For this tie, the Italian coach deployed goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone and defender Ferdinando Apap, as both passed a late fitness test to start this game.
Riga FC could not have asked for a better start when they were awarded a penalty in the first minute of play when Jean Baptiste Leo was floored by Sergio Raphael.
Nonetheless, Kone made sure to become an instant fan favourite when he denied Ivan Paurevic from the spot before the Riga captain sent his rebound wide over the bar.
Despite missing the penalty, Riga remained at the top and were piling the pressure on Hibernians in an attempt to find an early leveller in the game.
Captain Paurevic tried to make amends for his penalty with a close-range header that was blocked by Kone.
Moments later, Hibernians almost struck first when Jake Grech let fly a shot from the edge of the area only to see his effort go inches wide.
On 18 minutes, Grech awarded a glorious chance to Riga when he passed the ball backwards towards Leo, who whipped in a cross onto the header of Wesley Nata just for the Hibernians goalkeeper to avert the danger.
Hibs replied through Jurgen Degabriele whose close-range shot was saved by Riga’s goalkeeper.
Brazilian midfielder Felipe Brisola tried his luck from long range but could not find the target as Hibs were still one goal ahead on aggregate inside the first half an hour.
Antonijs Cernomordijs tried to head the ball home from a corner-kick but once again Riga failed to break the deadlock.
In the closing stages of the opening 45 minutes, Riga were looking to make their pressure count with various attempts but Hibernians managed to preserve their overall lead at half-time.
At the restart, Wesley Nata darted into the box before firing wide as Riga remained with their foot on the accelerator and in fact, they managed to find their first goal in the tie five minutes after the break when Leo pounced on an Andrei Agius mistake and slotted into the far corner.
Hibernians’ reply came swiftly when Wilfried Domoraud connected with a Degabriele cross but his header was smothered by Riga’s goalkeeper.
The Maltese side remained well and alive in the game and they managed to take the aggregate lead again when Degabriele beat Riga’s goalkeeper with a curling effort for his fourth European goal this season.
The goal came as a cold shower for Riga and it took them several minutes to recompose themselves and stage a reaction to restore parity for the second time in this tie.
Leo came close to record a personal double when he struck the crossbar from inside the penalty area before Cernomordijs’ rebound sailed over the bar.
Five minutes from time, Degabriele looked to have sealed the deal for Hibernians just for the referee to disallow the goal for a controversial offside position.
The pressure became intense as Riga were pushing bodies forward while Hibernians were fighting tooth and nail to deny their opponents any opportunity.
Mikael Soisalo tried to find the net from a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the area but he could find the net.
Hibs ended with ten men after Grech was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
When Hibernians were destined to advance into the next round, Paurevic lobbed the ball over Kone into the car corner to the disappointment in the Hibs camp.
Riga’s goal triggered a lot of disputes on the touchline with the Irish referee sending off coach Sanderra and Kristensen alongside team manager Jesmond Abela as the game headed into the extra-time.
The Latvian champions almost added a third through Yunusa Muritala but he could find the right connection to the ball and his header went in vain.
On the brink of half-time, Leo squandered a glorious chance for Riga from inside the penalty box.
Yet, Riga still managed to take a 3-2 aggregate lead when Muritala managed to head home the ball just before the half-time whistle.
Substitute Vladimirs Kamerss was also sent off for Riga in the second half of extra-time as both teams were playing with 10 players.
Hibernians hopes vanished five minutes from time when another Agius mistake paved the way for Muritala to net his second goal of the game and make sure of Riga’s qualification.