Brave Birkirkara eliminated as West Ham win penalty shoot-out

Birkirkara make West Ham suffer after Hammers scrape through Europa League tie with penalty shoot-out win.

Fabrizio Miccoli opens the scoring after just 15 minutes • Photo: Reuters
Fabrizio Miccoli opens the scoring after just 15 minutes • Photo: Reuters
West Ham defender James Tomkins was sent off two minutes before half time after tussling with Nikola Vukanac • Photo: Reuters
West Ham defender James Tomkins was sent off two minutes before half time after tussling with Nikola Vukanac • Photo: Reuters

A brave Birkirkara side gave a stunning performance in front of a packed National Stadium, but their hopes of pulling a major upset against Premier League side West Ham United were cruelly shot down in a penalty shoot-out.

The match was undoubtedly anything but an easy game for the Hammers, with Birkirkara cutting an impressive and matured performance. Despite being tactically geared to play on the counter attack, the Stripes showed great efficiency in their attack, with its midfielders and attackers linking up well throughout the game. The defence, particularly centre back pairing Mazzetti and Vukanac were also impressive, with Mazzetti undoubtedly playing one of his finest performances in a Birkirkara shirt. Buoyed by thousands of fans, the Stripes oozed confidence and were not deterred by their illustrious opponents. Rather, it was West Ham who had to scrape through thanks to a less-than-impressive performance.

Buoyed by over 15,000 spectators and a rapturous atmosphere by the Birkirkara faithful, the Stripes took a deserved lead through Fabrizio Miccoli on 15 minutes. The goal came after captain Paul Fenech passed the ball to Liliu who sprinted clear past James Collins before squaring across the six-yard box for Miccoli to slide home past the despairing Adrian.

The goal was greeted by a boisterous cheer by the crowd. With the tie now level at 1-1, the Hammers stepped up their game, but Birkirkara remained the better team, with their defence, particularly Matias Mazzetti cutting an impressive figure to keep the West Ham attackers at bay.

Already on top, Birkirkara received another boost one minute before the interval as James Tomkins, the hero from the first leg at the Boleyn Ground, quickly turned villain after he was sent off following an altercation with Birkirkara centre back Nikola Vukanac. The Serbian defender required medical attention, and after much deliberation from Albanian referee Enea Jorgii, Tomkins was shown a straight-red card.

Croatian manager Slaven Bilic responded by dropping midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate into defence after the interval as they tried to stem the Birkirkara waves of attack as the match headed towards extra time. On the 50th minute Miccoli cross shot was parried away by Adrian. The lively Miccoli also went close with a weak shot, while Justin Haber was barely test for most of the game. However, West Ham’s menacing wingers, particularly Matt Jarvis, proved to be Birkirkara’s downfall as the English player was consistently finding space and delivering dangerous crosses, with one of them, being palmed away by Justin Haber.

On the 79th minute Rowen Muscat made way for Edmon Agius, while seven minutes later, Vito Plut came on for Miccoli. Plut’s presence gave the Birkirkara defence a much-needed breather, with Plut and the Birkirkara wingers managing to create several chances of their own. On extra time, Plut ran the length of the field, gliding past at least three West Ham players but his tame effort was easily saved by Adrian.

Three minutes into the second half of extra-time, the numerical deficit was leveled up after Birkirkara centre-back and arguably the best player on the pitch Matias Mazzetti earned a second yellow card for clipping an Maiga’s leg on the edge of the penalty area. Aaron Cresswell’s ensuing freekick caused no trouble with the Birkirkara wall doing its job.

Four minutes from the end of extra-time, West Ham had the ball in the net, but the travelling supporters’ cheers quickly turned into Maltese jeers as Maiga was adjudged to be offside. With no breakthrough, the match went down to penalties. West Ham’s Mark Noble, Mauro Zarate, Aaron Cresswel, Joey O’Brien, and Diego Poyet scoring from the spot-kick. For Birkirkara Paul Fenech and Vito Plut scored two impressive penalties, before centre back Nikola Vukanac sending his spot kick high into the stands. Edmond Agius also scored, but Vukanac’s miss left West Ham’s fate hanging on the shoulders of young Diego Poyet. However, the substitute was unnerved and rolled the ball past the despairing Justin Haber to send West Ham through the third round of the Europe League and Birkirkara out.

Despite the loss, the spectators gathered at the National Stadium applauded the Stripes’ performance.

 

Birkirkara: J. Haber, E. Marcelina (97 K. Zammit), M. Mazzetti, P. Fenech, R. Camenzuli, F. Miccoli (77 V. Plut), N. Vukanac, Liliu, J. Zerafa, Z. Muscat (70 E. Agius), R. Muscat.

West Ham United: Adrian, A. Cresswell, K. Nolan (59 D. Poyet), J. Tomkins, M. Jarvis (120 M. Samuelsen), C. Kouyate, M. Zarate, M. Noble, J. O'Brien, J. Collins, M. Amalfitano (50 M. Maiga).

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