Caruana 2; Cassar 20;
Floriana ended a troubled week on a heartening note yesterday as the Greens launched their Premier League campaign with a straightforward victory over Mqabba.
An opening fixture against one of the newly-promoted sides made for an easy introduction to the new season for Floriana but their lacklustre performance in the 3-0 loss to rivals Valletta in the BOV Super Cup and the ensuing controversy about Ghanaian goalkeeper William Amamoo’s absence from Tuesday’s game threatened to distract the players from the task at hand.
A goal inside the opening two minutes by man-of-the-match Chris Caruana went some way towards settling Floriana’s nerves as last season’s runners-up were a cut above Mqabba, who on this evidence, are in for a long, hard season.
The game was effectively over as a contest after just 20 minutes, the time it took Floriana to double their lead but instead of pressing home their clear superiority, the Greens eased off in the second half before enjoying a late flourish.
Despite their evident limitations, Mqabba never stopped trying and their efforts resulted in a handful of scoring opportunities but Manuel Bartolo, the Floriana goalkeeper, kept his focus to keep the Reds at bay.
Although Floriana were satisfied to breeze through their first game, they are still far from reaching the levels that made them one of the most solid outfits in the top division last season.
The sight of new signing Boris Odwong joining his team-mates for the pre-match warm-up ought to have lifted the mood of the Floriana fans.
Odwong was forced to sit out Tuesday’s Super Cup match against Valletta due to a delay in the arrival of his international transfer certificate but Floriana finally received the all-clear to hand the former Sampdoria youth trainee his debut in yesterday’s league opener.
Thomas Paris made way for the Nigerian striker who took up a central attacking position with Ivan Woods and John Mintoff providing support from the wings.
Mqabba coach Clive Mizzi has retained the core of players who led the team to promotion as Division One runners-up last season. James Paris, signed on loan from Sliema Wanderers, and Serbian midfielder Marco Potezica were the only new faces in Mqabba’s starting XI.
Less than two minutes from the start of the game had elapsed when Floriana opened the scoring. Chris Cassar’s cross from a right-wing corner was met by Tyrone Farrugia whose header was partially cleared but the ball dropped at the feet of the unmarked Christian Caruana who prodded home from close in.
Conceding so early in their opening game was a kick in the teeth for newcomers Mqabba whose shambolic defending in the goal action was indicative of their players’ over-excitement. The absence of experienced Serbian defender Branislav Timotic complicated matters for Mqabba.
Experienced wing-back Pierre Grima sent his free-kick just wide of the far post as Mqabba tried to stage a reaction.
On 11 minutes, the Reds went close as David Azzopardi hit a menacing grounder from just outside the area but Manuel Bartolo, the Floriana goalkeeper, managed to touch the ball around his near post.
Further evidence of Mqabba’s nervous mindset came on 20 minutes when they conceded another soft goal. Cassar’s swerving free-kick from an angled position looked too weak to trouble Kris Calleja but the Mqabba goalkeeper could only watch in horror as the ball rolled into the net at his near post.
Mqabba looked shell-shocked but they threatened to reduce the arrears with a fine move on 25 minutes. Paris made headway through the middle before setting up Azzopardi who demanded a good save from Bartolo.
Yet, Floriana looked capable of scoring every time they attacked as Mqabba’s defensive woes persisted. Caruana forced his way past two Mqabba defenders but his central effort was blocked by Calleja. Seconds later, John Mintoff blasted wide from a favourable position after the on-loan Sliema winger pounced on another half-clearance by the struggling Mqabba defenders.
Woods could have made it 3-0 but his rising effort from inside the box flew over the bar.
Mqabba began to see more of the ball as the first half entered its final stages with Paris keeping the Floriana defenders occupied with a series of diagonal incursions from the left wing.
But, the Reds’ efforts were easily snuffed out by Floriana who stayed in command.
Five minutes into the second half, Mintoff dispossessed the on-rushing Calleja but the Floriana speedster miscued his shot from outside the box. Calleja redeemed himself moments later as he pawed away Woods’s first-time scorcher after Mano Micallef unpicked the Mqabba defence with a surging run down the left.
Calleja then stopped a central drive from Mintoff as Floriana continued to dominate. At the other end, a dipping cross-shot from Clayton Micallef, a second-half substitute for Mark Anthony Psaila, arched dangerously towards goal, forcing Bartolo to palm the ball over the crossbar.
Two goals up, Floriana grew increasingly casual as the second half progressed but Mqabba refused to follow suit. Mizzi’s men tried to up the tempo and in so doing, caused some problems to their more-quoted opponents.
Mauro Bonnici headed wide from Grima’s cross before the Thiago Mazitelli brought another smart save from Bartolo.
Late on, Mqabba protested for a penalty when Mazitelli went down after being challenged by Tyrone Farrugia but referee Tristan Farrugia Cann was unmoved.
Haruna joins Birkirkara
Birkirkara have signed Nigerian striker Shola Haruna, the Premier League club’s website reported last night.
Haruna had originally been brought to Malta by Qormi FC and was part of the team that featured in last month’s Hibs Tournament in Corradino where he finished as the competition’s top scorer.
However, talks between Haruna and Qormi FC failed to yield an agreement and the Nigerian forward opted to look elsewhere.
Last week, Haruna was linked with a move to Floriana but talks broke down due to visa problems. The speedy forward has now opted to join Birkirkara and put pen to paper to a two-year contract.
Haruna is expected to make his first appearance for the Stripes next Saturday when they face Mosta at the Hibs Stadium.
Today: (National Stadium): 6.30 p.m. Balzan vs Ħamrun; 8.30 p.m. Valletta vs Tarxien.
M. Bartolo-7, D. Pisani-5.5, M. Micallef-6.5, T. Farrugia-6, O. Bugeja-6, P. Doffo-6, C. Cassar-6.5 (75 C. Borg), J. Mintoff-6 (62 J. Borg-5), C. Caruana-7, I. Woods-6, B. Odwong-5.5.
K. Calleja-5, P. Grima-6, M. Potezica-6, A. Scicluna-6, M.A. Psaila-4 (46 C. Micallef-5.5), M. Briffa-5 (52 S. Magro-4), D. Azzopardi-5.5, Thiago Mazitelli-4, C. Calleja-6.5, M. Bonnici-5, J. Paris-6.5 (67 J.P. Muscat-6.5).
Referee: Tristan Farrugia Cann.
Yellow cards: Psaila; Potezica; Caruana; Paris; Scicluna.
BOV player of the match: Christian Caruana (Floriana).
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