A goalless draw was the outcome of an encounter between Valletta FC and FC Utrecht on Malta. In the away match of the second qualifying round of the Europa League FC Utrecht were the dominant force, but were unable to show that in the score. On Thursday the return match will be played in the Mandemakers Stadium in Waalwijk.
There were those moments when you moved from the backof your comfortable, relaxed seat to a somewhat less comfortable position on the tip of your bucket seat. There were about five or six of those moments in Paola, where FC Utrecht were fighting against a wall of players erected by Valletta FC. But time and again the ball would not go in between the posts or under the bar, or keeper Henry Bonello would be in the way, one way or the other.
Hunters and prey
Except for one, maybe two dangerous moments – FC Utrecht hardly had any problems against the 23 times champion of Malta. The division of roles was quite obvious. Valletta FC emerged as prey and FC Utrecht as the hunter. But catching that prey on the barren and above all bumpy pitch of the Hibernians Stadium was not an easy task.
The weather was a factor to be considered in the evaluation of the Utrecht football hunt. It was more than 32 degrees when the match started; and just think that it was already 19:30 hrs on Malta. The phase of the football season is also worth mentioning, as it still is early days. FC Utrecht resumed training less than three weeks ago and usually the team only plays training matches in this phase of the preparations. That is not the case now. The second leg of the qualifying round of the Europa League means that FC Utrecht are the first in the Netherlands to start working hard. And this applies to the team who had the final ball-contact in the Eredivisie of the past football season.
Ode to Velox
That challenge, in fact a reward for the performance achieved in the 2016/2017 season, was taken up well by the FC Utrecht players. They went for it full force, despite the conditions, despite the opponents’ game plan. They did that in the third football kit of the 2017/2018 season, which had been launched by FC Utrecht the day before. Unfortunately they did not manage to celebrate a goal in the shirt that can be regarded as an ode to Velox.
Return on Thursday
But all is not lost. The away match against Valletta FC is the first of a double header that will be completed on Thursday. Then the two teams will meet again in Waalwijk. The conditions, however, will be different then. The majority of the fans will be supporting FC Utrecht, the temperature will definitely be lower, and the same will apply for humidity. In short: it is 0-0, but it is a score that provides a perspective.
Not yet done on Malta
Those who think that FC Utrecht are done on Malta, are mistaken. Tomorrow (Friday) trainer/coach Erik ten Hag’s team will train there and then fly back home to the Netherlands. One day later there will be another match. SV Meppen – a team from the 3. Bundesliga – will be visiting Sportcomplex Zoudenbalch, where the kick-off is at 15:00 hrs.
Valletta FC - FC Utrecht 0-0 (0-0)
Yellow cards: Romeu, Steve Borg, Claudio Pani en Michael Mifsud (allen Valletta FC), Jeff Hardeveld, Zakaria Labyad en Sean Klaiber (allen FC Utrecht)
Referee: Ognjen Valjic.
Line-up Valletta FC:
Henry Bonello; Uchenna Umeh, Steve Borg, Ryan Camilleri, Joseph Zerafa; Juan Cruz Gill, Claudio Pani, Michael Mifsud (89. Roderick Briffa); Romeu (69. Kyrian Nwoko), Malano Santiago; Maximiliano Velasco (73. Jean Borg).
Line-up FC Utrecht:
David Jensen; Sean Klaiber, Mark van der Maarel, Edson Braafheid, Jeff Hardeveld (80. Urby Emanuelson); Willem Janssen, Sander van de Streek, Yassin Ayoub, Zakaria Labyad; Gyrano Kerk (88. Bilal Ould-Chikh), Simon Makienok.