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Gżira United boosted their aspirations for a Championship Pool berth after they edged Gudja 2-1 at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.
The Maroons looked set for a comfortable afternoon when they surged into a two-goal lead in the opening period.
But a goal from Gudja, 20 minutes from time, pierced their confidence mood and the spectre of another comeback from their opponents loomed large. This time, however, Darren Abdilla’s side escaped unscathed.
Before the match, both sets of players unfurled a banner to express their solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Both captains wore armbands with the colours of Ukraine.
Gżira United coach Darren Abdilla opted for a three-man defence with Marko Cosic, Gabriel Bohrer and Luke Tabone forming the Maroons’ backline.
The absence through long-term injury of Jackson Mendoza necessitated some tactical changes as Abdilla presented a 3-4-3 formation with Steven Pisani and Nikolai Muscat forming a central hog behind Clive Gauci who played in the hole.
On the other side, wing backs Marcelo Dias and Neil Tabone were detailed to push up high on the flanks in a V-shape configuration that allowed Matias Muchardi, James Arthur, Aidan Friggieri and Giorgi Nikabadze to slot in the middle to support Gabriel Mensah and Nika Dzalamidze.
The match turned out to be a highly-tactical battle, which saw play concentrated mostly in midfield.
It was Gżira who created the first chance on 23 minutes when Zachary Scerri sent a fine cross towards the sprinting Jefferson who headed the ball against the crossbar.
The Brazilian striker showed touches of class, five minutes later, jinking past Rodolfo Soares on the right flank before squaring the ball for Toni Kolega who turned in from close range.
Jefferson gave his compatriot Soares a torrid time each time he was in control of the ball.
On 38 minutes, Gudja’s defender Juan Bolanos was as surprised as anyone to find himself outmuscled by Jefferson who raced the length of the field before depositing the ball behind Zammit.
Gudja’s response was low-key with Muchardi curling in a free-kick into the box which was blocked by Marko Cosic into a corner after 50 minutes.
On 65 minutes, Friggieri forced a solid save from Darijan Zarkov, smacking the ball with the outside of his boot from the edge of the area.
The Maroons fans began to relax, with Gżira seemingly in command.
But a lapse of concentration brought Thane Micallef’s side right back into the picture.
An untidy goalmouth scramble ended with substitute Llywelyn Cremona pushing the ball over the line.
After surrendering a two-goal cushion in their last outing against Mosta, this Gudja goal set up an anxious finale for the Maroons but this time they emerged unscathed.
Referee: Malcolm Spiteri
Jefferson da Assis(GZR)
BOV PLAYER OF THE MATCH
|#||Player||Position||Goals||Assists||Yellow Cards||Second Yellows||Red Cards|
|3||Tatsuro Nagamatsu 99||Midfielder||0||0||0||0||0|
|5||Matias Muchardi||Midfielder||0||1||1 (34')||0||0|
|7||Aidan Friggieri 81||Midfielder||0||0||0||0||0|
|10||Llywelyn Cremona 17||Midfielder||1 (70')||0||0||0||0|
|17||Gabriel Mensah 10||Forward||0||0||0||0||0|
|19||Ahinga Bienvenu Selemani 28||Forward||0||0||0||0||0|
|28||Nika Dzalamidze 19||Forward||0||0||1 (72')||0||0|
|81||Neil Micallef 7||Defender||0||0||0||0||0|
|99||Marcelo Dias 3||Defender||0||0||0||0||0|
|25||Juan Andres Bolanos||Defender||0||0||0||0||0|