There is nothing like a cup final to bring out the best out of a football player.
The ‘do-or-die’ atmosphere of such matches increases the excitement and makes the blood bubble up in one’s veins. Many players reply positively to these situations and the bigger the game the better their performance is.
Since 1910-11 when the first Maltese cup final was held, there were many great finals but none, in my opinion, as exciting as the 1991-92 FA Trophy final.
Floriana and Hibernians kicked off the tournament with the first of two preliminary round matches.
The competition could not have opened on a better note. Both teams provided the crowd with a sound display of attacking football, typical to knockout tournaments. The game ended in a 1-1 draw and had to go to extra-time before Kim Wright scored the winning goal for Floriana.
In the other preliminary round match, Sliema eliminated their neighbours from St Andrew’s with a goal scored by Caruana.
This slim victory earned the Wanderers a place in the quarter-finals against Ħamrun Spartans.
This was another thriller. Two hours of hard gruelling football were not enough to break the deadlock.
Thus, it was the penalty shoot-out which enabled the Spartans to beat Sliema’s challenge.
In the other quarter-finals, Rabat Ajax just managed to dispose of Birkirkara in extra-time, Floriana were rather lucky to eliminate Mqabba and Valletta went on a goal spree against Żurrieq.
The Citizens, looking fresh and relaxed, were miles ahead of their opponents. Jesmond Zerafa, Nicky Saliba and Kristian Laferla scored two goals each for the champions while Joe Zarb, Charlie Magri and Gilbert Agius scored the others in a 9-0 rout.
In the first semi-final, Ħamrun beat Floriana 2-0. The Greens, however, had only themselves to blame for their elimination. Time and again, they created clear-cut scoring chances but poor finishing ruined their good work.
Valletta beat Rabat 3-1 in the other semi but although the Citizens were tactically superior, the Magpies never gave up trying.
Zarb opened the score from the penalty after only four minutes and Agius added another 17 minutes later. Rabat, however, hit back and eight minutes later they stormed back into the game when Arnautovic converted a penalty.
The final result hung in the balance until the 70th minute when Zarb finally settled the issue in favour of Valletta.
The FA Trophy final was held on June 7, 1992.
Stefan Sultana opened the score for the Spartans with a penalty but Valletta struck back and their efforts were rewarded with another penalty. Laferla took the kick and scored to the delight of the City supporters.
Play continued to fluctuate from one end of the pitch to the other until the 69th minute when Zerafa scored to put City 2-1 up.
Ħamrun retaliated immediately and Valletta’s fort passed through many an anxious moment. Nevertheless, as the minutes crept by the Citizens grew bolder and they seemed quite capable of controlling the Reds’ desperate efforts.
With seconds left for the final whistle, it seemed all over for the Spartans. However, with the City fans already celebrating on the touchlines, Zammit scored a dramatic equaliser.
The City clan was struck dumb but there was nothing left to do but play extra time.
The extra half-hour was played at the same frantic pace. The first half was barely started when Zarb put Valletta once again in front.
For a moment, the Spartans were knocked off their feet, but they were not beaten yet. Showing a rare mixture of grit and determination they stormed back into the game and hit back to force a replay.
The replay attracted another huge crowd even though it was played in mid-week. Everything pointed to another titanic battle and once again the game lived up to expectations.
Ħamrun were the first to draw blood when after 16 minutes Sultana opened the account. Four minutes later the same player made it 2-0 amidst indescribable scenes of joy of the Reds fans.
In the second half, Valletta went all out to draw level.
Zarb reduced the arrears right at the start of the second period and this prompted the Citizens to increase the pressure. Their efforts, however, proved futile and it was Ħamrun who inscribed their name on the trophy for the sixth time in their history.
The jinx which in those days seemed to haunt Valletta every time they met Ħamrun in a final was still starring them in the face when referee Charlie Agius signalled the end of the encounter.
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