For the second year running, Valletta’s dream of advancing to the third qualifying round of the Champions League lies in tatters after their 7-2 aggregate defeat to Partizan Belgrade but their performances across the two legs won them the admiration of their more-quoted opponents.
Aleksandar Rogic, the Partizan Belgrade assistant manager whose first coaching job was as a member of Danilo Doncic’s backroom staff during the latter’s one-year stint with Floriana in 2007-08, hailed Valletta’s progress.
“From the first day after the draw was made, we took the Valletta games very seriously,” Rogic told The Times from Belgrade.
“I worked in Malta some years ago and I knew that Valletta have improved a lot in the last few seasons. The way we prepared for these matches, we were aware of the good and bad points of Valletta.
“We did our homework well and I believe we can be satisfied with our performances. We’re also happy to have won our first home game of the season in front of our supporters on Tuesday.
“As in the first leg, Valletta showed that they are a pretty good side in the away match. They played good football and after 60 minutes, the score was 1-1 (Partizan won 3-1).
“I want to congratulate Valletta for a good effort and a positive performance.
“After their defeat in the first match (1-4), Valletta didn’t come here to defend and in so doing, they sent a very good message about Maltese football. They knew that we were the better team but they didn’t opt to defend.
“Maybe that’s one of the reasons we’ve scored seven goals because we had more space.
“But, their approach was right. I mean if you’re the champion of your country, you can’t represent your football by showing an inferiority complex and defend all game because you’d still end up losing.”
Unsurprisingly, it was Michael Mifsud who caught the eye of the Partizan coaches after the Malta captain netted Valletta’s two goals.
“Michael Mifsud showed that he is a very good player,” Rogic said. “He scored in both games and his level of performance was very high. For me, Michael can play for a team like Partizan because he has got speed and can score goals.”
In the lead-up to the game, the Serbian media had backed Partizan to outclass Valletta and make amends for their ignominious exit at the hands of Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League last season.
Partizan’s 7-2 win was in keeping with those expectations but Rogic insisted that their progress was not as staightforward as the scoreline might suggest.
“I knew Valletta from my time in Malta and I’m obviously happy that we have reached the next round,” Rogic remarked.
“However, after the two games, everyone at our club has been talking about the progress of Maltese football. The matches against Valletta weren’t easy.
“In my first game with Floriana back in 2007, we beat Valletta 3-2 and my involvement with Partizan in these two Champions League matches reminded me of that win.
“But, as I said, I want to say well done to Valletta for the way they approached the games.”
Judging by their sound showings against Valletta, Partizan look to have a fair chance of reaching the group stages of the Champions League but Rogic urged caution.
“We have a young and inexperienced team,” Rogic said.
“On Tuesday, we had four U-18 players in the team in the final stages of the match. Nine to 10 players in the first-team squad came through the Partizan academy but we don’t want to put any pressure on them.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. Our initial target was to play in the Europa League but if there’s a chance of advancing to the group stages of the Champions League, we’ll fight for it.”
Second qualifying round (second legs)
|Played yesterday||1st leg||2nd leg||Agg.|
|The New Saints (WAL) vs Helsingborgs (SWE)||0-0||0-3||0-3|
|BATE Borisov (BLR) vs FK Vardar (MKD)||3-2||0-0||3-2|
|AEL Limassol (CYP) vs Linfield (NIR)||3-0||0-0||3-0|
|L. Razgrad (BUL) vs Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)||1-1||2-3||3-4|
|Buducnost (MNE) vs Slask Wroclaw (POL)||0-2||1-0||1-2|
|Played on Tuesday||1st leg||2nd leg||Agg.|
|Slovan Liberec (CZE) vs S. Karagandy (KAZ) (after extra-time)||1-0||1-1||2-1|
|Molde FK (NOR) vs FK Ventspils (LVA)||3-0||1-1||4-1|
|F91 Dudelange (LUX) vs Salzburg (AUT) (Dudelange through on away goals)||1-0||3-4||4-4|
|MSK Zilina (SVK) vs H. Kiryat Shmona (ISR)||1-0||0-2||1-2|
|Shamrock Rovers (IRL) vs FK Ekranas (LTU)||0-0||1-2||1-2|
|Neftci PFK (AZE) vs Zestafoni (GEO)||3-0||2-2||5-2|
|Ulisses (ARM) vs Sheriff (MDA)||0-1||0-1||0-2|
|Flora Tallinn (EST) vs FC Basel (SUI)||0-2||0-3||0-5|
|KS Skenderbeu (ALB) vs Debreceni (HUN)||1-0||0-3||1-3|
|Valletta (MLT) vs Partizan Belgrade (SRB)||1-4||1-3||2-7|
|NK Maribor (SVN) vs FK Zeljeznicar (BIH)||4-1||2-1||6-2|
|HJK Helsinki (FIN) vs KR Reykjavik (ISL)||7-0||2-1||9-1|
Note: First-named teams played second leg away.
Third qualifying round draw
Maribor (SVN) vs Dudelange (LUX)
BATE Borisov (BLR) vs Debrecen (HUN)
Cluj (ROM) vs Slovan Liberec (CZE)
Anderlecht (BEL) vs Ekranas (LTU)
S. Wroclaw (POL) vs Helsingsborg (SWE)
Sheriff (MDA) vs Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
Celtic (SCO) vs HJK Helsinki (FIN)
Molde (NOR) vs Basel (SUI)
Kiryat Shmona (ISR) vs Neftci (AZE)
AEL Limassol (CYP) vs Partizan (SRB)
Fenerbahce (TUR) vs Vaslui (ROM)
Motherwell (SCO) vs Panathinaikos (GRE)
FC Copenhagen (DEN) vs Bruges (BEL)
Dynamo Kiev (UKR) vs Feyenoord (NED)
First legs: July 31/August 1.
Second legs: August 7/8
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