Thursday 30th June 2016 – Balzan FC played their first leg in the UEFA Europa League, preliminary round, against Neftci PFK (Baku – Azerbaijan) on Thursday 30th June 2016 at the Hibernians Stadium in Paola and lost 0 – 2.

Highlights of the game : and

Making their second home appearance in Europe, Balzan were shaky in the first half. Their were hesitant and had a cautious approach. The more experienced Neftchi team were the brighter team for long stretches.

Neftchi looked set for a routine win but Balzan grew in stature in the seond half, pressing their opponents all over the pitch while up front, the likes of Bojan Kaljevic and Borce Macevski increased their movement.

Balzan’s three new signings were handed their first start as Brazilian defender Bruno partnered Colombian Elkin Serrano and Clive Brincat. In central defence, Francisco Anderson de Barros, also from Brazil, flanked Paul Fenech in midfield and Macedonian forward Macevski began on the left of attack.

Balzan’s coach Oliver Spiteri started with 3-4-3 approach. when they had to chase possession he switched into 5-4-1

Netchi PFK coach Veli Gasimov favoured a 4-3-3 approach with Ruslan Gurbanov the main striker.

On ten minutes, Paul Fenech tried his luck with a shot from outside the box but his effort finished wide.

Balzan’s early optimism faded away as they conceded a soft goal on the 15th minute.

RAHMAN HAJIYEV’s swerving direct free-kick, taken from an angled position, soared towards the near post but Balzan goalkeeper Ivan Janjusevic appeared to move late, slightly touching the ball as it nestled into the net.

In 24th minute, Araz Abdullayev’s ferocious free-kick from the distance flew past the far post.

On the 29th minute, Balzan made a good move when Paul Fenech advanced from midfield before serving Alfred Effiong, who in turn set Bojan Kaljevic in the box but the Montenegrin forward headed wide.

A powerful run from Dario Melnjak surprised the Balzan defenders as he stormed into the area before being challenged by one of them. The loose ball rolled to Elshan Abdullayev who quickly released Melnjak but his shot finished incredibly high when in a good position.

Elshan Abdullayev took advantage when Paul Fenech lost possession in midfield. He ran forward unimpeded but his drive was parried away by Ivan Janjusevic.

Balzan were a different team in the second half, injecting more intensity into their game.

Two minutes after resumption, Kaljevic managed to anticipate Rodriques Peixoto Flho  Jairo in the box but his effort was saved by Krsevan Santini, the Neftchi goalkeeper.

On the 55th minute, goalkeeper Santini  Krsevan managed to push the ball away into a corner, with a very good save, over a pulverising shot from Borce Manevski.

Balzan increased their efforts. Following a Paul Fenech’s corner from the right  the ball fell into Steve Bezzina’s path whose half-volley was turned away into a corner by Santini.

From the ensuing corner, taken again by Fenech, Elkin Serrano’s header was cleared as Neftchi struggled to deal with Balzan’s rising pressure.

The third corner in the space of two minutes, this time taken by Lydon Micallef, yielded another chance as Steve Bezzina  first on the loose ball but his shot finished just wide.

Bojan Kaljevic thought he had equalised for Balzan when he managed to nudge the ball past the goalkeeper but Shikov  Vanche cleared the danger off the fatal line.

Balzan’s optimism was cut short when, on the 82nd minute, Samir Arab was judged, by the referee, to have tripped Elshan Abdullayev in the box. From the penalty spot GURBANOV RUSIAN did not fail to convert.

This win of 2 – 0  makes Neftchi Baku firm favourites to move into the second qualifying round of the Europe League.

BALZAN FC : Ivan Janjusevic, Paul Fenech, Borce Manevski (65′ Lydon Micallef), Dylan Grima (81′ Samir Arab), Steve Bezzina, Clive Brincat (74′ Justin Grioli), Alfred Effiong, Anderson Francisco de Barros, Elkin Orlando Serrano Valero, Bruno Giglio De Oliveira, Bojan Kaljevic.

NEFTÇI PFK : Krševan Santini, Jairo Rodrigues Peixoto Filho, Araz Abdullayev (80′ Fahmin Muradbayli), Ruslan Gurbanov, Murad Agayev, Rahman Hajiyev (75′ Javid Imamverdiyev), Vanche Shikov, Magsad Isayev, Dario Melnjak, Edson Daniel Castillo Garcia (92′ Rahil Mammadov).