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Late Radnicki goal denies Gżira in first leg

GŻIRA UNITED    2

Maxuell 56, 61 pen.

RADNICKI NIS      2

Stulic 28

Gakou 92

GŻIRA UNITED

D. Zarkov; Z. Scerri (91 C. Gauci), G. Mentz, L. Tabone, N. Muscat, R. Correa, M. Dias, M. Cosic, Maxuell (74 T. Kolega), L. Riascos, Jefferson.

RADNICKI NIS

M. Drobnjak; N. Aksentijevic, M. Savic, A. Tolordava, B. Mladovic (65 M. Gakou), A. Pejovic, L. Arsic, S. Marjanovic (65 A. Mesarovic), L. Jovanovic (65 B. Tomic), S. Petrov, N. Stulic (74 S. Dimic).

Referee F. Karako (Hungary FA).

Yellow cards Savic, Riascos, Tomic, Zarkov.

Gżira United were denied a remarkable victory over Radnicki Nis after the Serbian side found a leveller in the 92nd minute in the first leg of the second qualifying of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

Tipped as favourites before the match, Radnicki looked set to live up to their expectations after a first-half goal through Nikola Stulic put them ahead.

However, Radnicki never really imposed their game in the opening 45 minutes. Even in the opening stages, the Serbian side did not put Gżira under any kind of suffocating pressure.

The Maroons profited with a Maxuell brace which seemed to have handed Darren Abdilla’s side a special win in European football.

However, substitute defender Maka Gakou was alert to seize his chance from close-range in additional time to end the game in a four-goal stalemate.

Nonetheless, the 2-2 draw can be considered as an encouraging result for the Maltese representatives as they will play their qualification chances in next week’s second leg in Serbia.

For this game, coach Abdilla made a few changes from last week’s formation that faced Atletic Escaldes in Andorra.

Luke Tabone and Ricardo Correa were given the nod while Jackson Mendoza and Toni Kolega were not among the starters.

Despite Radnicki starting as the much-quoted side for this encounter, they were struggling to impose their game play until the first cooling break on minute 23.

In fact, this sort of time-out seems to have helped Radnicki recover some energy and start stronger out of the blocks now as they managed to open the scoring at the first time of asking.

A whipped cross by Lazar Jovanovic was met by Nikola Stulic whose close-range volley beat Darijan Zarkov.

All this came moments after Ricardo Correa saw his effort sail wide over the bar.

Radnicki looked set to double their lead through Sava Petrov but his low drive went off target.

In the closing stages of the first half, Gżira were looking to defend through ball possession in an attempt to deny Radnicki further goal scoring chances before the whistle goes off.

After the change of ends, Radnicki registered the first chance when Stulic tried his luck with a long-range header but failed to hit the target.

However, Gżira managed to level terms in bizarre fashion. Radnicki’s goalkeeper failed to take control of a back pass with the ball dropping on the feet of Maxuell.

The Brazilian made sure to capitalise on this lucky situation to score his 27th goal for the Maroons.

His 28th goal arrived five minutes later, moments after Aleksandar Pejovic threatened Zarkov with a long-range shot which the Gżira goalkeeper blocked.

Marcelo Dias was floored in the penalty box by Bojan Mladovic who was consequently cautioned. From the spot, Maxuell converted to put Darren Abdilla’s side ahead, stunning the Serbian side.

Radnicki’s reply was three immediate changes and a Maka Gakou’s header that went inches wide from Zarkov’s goal.

Aleksandar Mesarovic, one of the substitutes, forced Zarkov to a brilliant stop after firing a low drive from inside the penalty area as Radnicki started to exert the pressure on the Maroons.

The Croatian goalkeeper came to Gżira’s rescue again with another save, this time on Stulic from a tight angle.

In the closing stages of the game, Gżira tried to prevent Radnicki from finding an equaliser but Gakou managed to salvage a draw for his side after converting a loose ball into goal following a set-piece situation.

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