In 1978, the three Maltese clubs taking part in European competitions, Valletta, Floriana, and Hibernians, were drawn against Grasshoppers (Switzerland), Internazionale (Italy), and Sporting Braga (Portugal) respectively.
Needless to say, Floriana had the best draw. Of course, they didn't harbour hopes of ousting one of the giants of Italian football, but luck provided them with a golden opportunity to boost their coffers.
Inter were then, as they are now, one of the most popular teams in Malta and their visit to the Empire Stadium was eagerly awaited by every one of their numerous supporters. This was a great opportunity for the local 'tifosi' to see their favourite team in action and they were not going to let it pass by.
On September 13, 1978, 14,688 spectators filled every available space at the Stadium.
At long last, the Maltese had the chance to cast their eyes on world-class stars, the likes of Muraro, Altobelli, Oriali and others.
Inter, however, disappointed their numerous Maltese supporters. Knowing that Floriana were inferior opponents, they never really moved out of second gear.
However, in view of the great following they enjoyed in Malta, Inter should, at least, have tried to put on a good show to please their Maltese fans.
After taking the lead in the first 15 minutes, Inter relaxed, allowing Floriana to get back into the match.
Floriana played a prudent game but never resorted to ultra-defensive measures. In fact, it was the Italians who seemed happy to defend their slender lead. The Greens shared the exchanges with their more illustrious opponents.
The locals grew more confident with each passing minute and, at the start of the second half, they equalised when Ray Xuereb converted a penalty. This goal jolted Inter into action. They pegged Floriana back into their area but, although they tried their best, they could not break down their opponents' defensive barrier.
As the seconds ticked away, the Italians became more and more desperate. The match seemed heading for a 1-1 draw but seven minutes from the end, Alessandro Altobelli went up for a high ball with John Holland. The Italian striker appeared to take a dive and English referee Paul Reeves whistled for a penalty.
Altobelli took the kick himself to put Inter ahead, albeit undeservedly. It was a fatal blow for Floriana from which they never recovered. They were demoralised and, a few minutes later, Altobelli was on target again to complete a controversial hat-trick.
After the game, disappointment was written all over the faces of the Inter party.
Notwithstanding the comfortable 3-1 scoreline which assured them of a place in the second round, Inter failed to impress in Malta.
Coach Bersellini knew this although he would not admit it when addressing Maltese journalists after the match.
"The way Floriana played foiled all our plans," Bersellini said.
"We expected them to attack. Their crowded midfield suffocated our movement and we could never really get going. But I must say that the pitch and the wind also affected our play. At San Siro it will be different..."
One, however, wonders if the Italian coach really expected a team of part-timers to attack a team of Inter's reputation.
Bersellini was right about one thing. Floriana's midfield, composed of Robert Balani, John Holland, George Xuereb and Frankie Micallef, played a blinder, blotting out most of Inter's half-hearted efforts.
A fortnight later in San Siro, Inter somehow vindicated their coach's prediction.
They made up for their disappointing performance in Malta by beating Floriana 5-0 with goals from Muraro (2), Fedele (2) and Chierico.
For the record
Cup Winners' Cup (first leg)
Sept. 13, 1978 - The Empire Stadium
Floriana vs Inter 1-3
Floriana: R. Gatt, G. Ciantar, E. Farrugia, R. Balani, J. Holland, G. Xuereb, F. Micallef, Azzopardi (Borg), R. Xuereb, P. Micallef (Jul. Holland), C. Micallef.
Inter: Bordon, Baresi, Fedele, Painato, Canuti, Bini, Oriali, Mariani, Altobelli, Beccalosi (Scanziani), Muraro.
Scorers: Altobelli 3; R. Xuereb (pen).
Referee: P. Reeves (England).
Attendance: 14, 688.
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