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Thursday, July 13, 2017


Hope was in the air ahead of Fola Esch's Europa League first round, first leg clash against Moldovan side Milsami Orhei on a glorious evening at the Stade Émile Mayrisch, Esch-sur-Alzette on 29 June. Fola had finished third in last season's BGL Ligue, as had Milsami in Moldova's Divizia Nazionala. It was a step into the unknown for the Luxembourg side as they knew virtually nothing about Milsami and had to rely on the internet for most of their information for their opponents.

That was rendered irrelevant as both teams stepped on to the pitch to the opening bars of the AC/DC classic "Hells Bells" before a crowd of just under a thousand spectators, a respectable number of whom were seated in Fola's new open stand on the eastern flank of the pitch.

The bells were ringing loud and proud after just four minutes when, after a cagey opening from both teams, Fola, playing in blue, took the lead. Samir Hadji went on a run up the left, passed the ball to Enis Saiti who ran on and crossed from the goal-line into Jakob Dallevedove who was standing unmarked at the edge of the penalty-area. The cross was perfect; Dallevedove positioned himself, swivelled and fired a fine volley past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Radu Mitu to give the home side a dream start.

Fola should have doubled their lead four minutes later when Saiti delivered another perfect cross to Hadji, who had lost his marker and was standing on the six-yard line. Instead of blasting both the ball and Mitu into the back of the net, however, Hadji elected to weakly volley the ball downward and straight at the goalkeeper. Milsani almost made Fola pay in the 10th minute when Vladimir Rassulov waltzed past a couple of defenders on the left before firing a low shot just past the right-hand post of Thomas Hym.

Ryan Klapp then shot over the crossbar from distance for the hosts before Tom Laterza embarked on a run from midfield and tried an ambitious shot on goal, which was deflected away for a corner, which was dealt with by the Milsami defence. The ball was then worked up the pitch by Constantin Bogdan and Rassulov, who passed to Sergiu Platica; Platica's shot from six yards out was saved by Hym's legs. The danger wasn't over, though; the resulting corner was headed on at the near post and Eugeniu Celeadnic only just failed to make contact with the ball at the far post, having left a Fola defender in his wake, and the ball trundled behind for a goal-kick.

Hym sent a Route 1 goal-kick downfield over the Milsami midfield for Ryan Klapp to chase; two bounces later, Klapp got to the ball before a pair of defenders and half-volleyed a chip from 25 yards over Mitu. It would have been a lovely goal, but Klapp saw his shot thud off the top of the crossbar and behind for a goal-kick, much to the relief of the man in white in the Milsami goal, who had gone wandering outside his own penalty-area.

Fola had dominated the first twenty minutes but had only the one goal to show for it; they kept up the pressure when Tom Laterza delivered a good cross in the 21st minute which was deflected behind by Bogdan. The first corner-kick was put behind for a second, which Peter Chrappan got his head to eight yards out only for Mitu to save well, low down at his right-hand post. 

Hadji got possession of the ball in the 23rd minute and delivered a fine pass inside to Dallevedove, who ran on fired in a stinging shot which was saved by Mitu at his near post and went behind for a corner. The corner was sent in towards Saiti, who badly miscued his attempt, leaving everyone else flat-footed and the ball was cleared.

Fola badly needed to score again, and soon, but there was a period of pressure from their opponents, during which Platica's free-kick was blocked by the Fola defensive wall, and Dino Graur's free-kick from 25 yards out was low, hard and went just the wrong side of Hym's right-hand post. The pressure lasted until half-time, apart from a couple of situations involving Saiti and Hadji who were looking dangerous for the home side when the situation allowed.

The half ended precisely on 45 minutes with Fola a goal up, but it could - and should - have been more. Milsami were coming more and more into the game, but Fola began the second half well. A Saiti free-kick a few minutes in led to mayhem in the Milsami box, but no-one could quite get the required touch on the ball to send it over a packed goal-line. Laterza sent in a cross which Mitu fumbled badly, but none of the Fola forwards were close enough to make him pay.

Milsami forward Eugeniu Celeadnic wasted a great chance to level the scores on 55 minutes. He was left unmarked on the right-hand side of the penalty-area when a free-kick was floated in from the left, but he could only direct his header down and wide. They attacked again on the hour when a low cross was flung in from the right which Hym in the Fola goal could only parry. the ball came out to Maxim Antoniuc - who had passed the ball out to his colleague on the wing during the build-up and who had drifted unnoticed into the box - some 15 yards out whose diving header looped over everybody, except a home defender who cleared the ball ninja-style off the goal-line. Hym parried another low cross with attackers in attendance moments later, but the ball fell advantageously or him and he was able to retrieve it unimpeded. Fola's goal was suddenly leading a charmed life.

Down the other end, Klapp was proving industrious and fed the ball in to Dallevedove, who turned and shot from just outside the box but his effort went wide of Mitu's left-hand post. The ball went straight back upfield and Graur fashioned himself a chance after gaps in the Fola defence left him unmarked at the right-hand edge of the area, but his shot was well saved by Hym.

Things went just a little stale for the next ten minutes or so, but with a quarter of an hour to go, Dallevedove turned provider after going on a run down the left, passing in to Hadji whose strong shot was saved at the second attempt. Milsani had another little purple patch, but on one occasion, two of their front four got in each other's way in a promising position inside the penalty-area, lost the ball and fouled Chrappan.

With ten minutes to go and slightly against the run of play, Fola doubled their lead. A ball into the box from the left touchline was worked on to Hadji via the merest of touches from Dallevedove, and Hadji turned and shot from ten yards out, sending the ball under Mitu and into the corner of the net. It felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted from the Fola team; they had deserved a second goal, but they should have scored it at least an hour earlier.

And, the weight was back on Fola shoulders less than a minute after their goal when Milsami took advantage of a severe lack of concentration in the home defence. Maxim Antoniuc played the ball forward to Vladimir Rassulov, who was tackled by a Fola defender. Unfortunately, the ball was played off a second Fola player, ricocheted into the path of Sergiu Platica at the left-hand angle of the penalty-area, and he swung at it with the outside of his right foot. Cue wild celebrations on the Milsami bench as the ball skimmed along the ground and into the net just inside the far post, with goalkeeper Hym left bewildered.

Milsami continued to press, but, despite all their pressure, they couldn't find a way through an increasingly nervy Fola defence. It was Fola who almost scored in the second of three minutes of injury-time when Hadji got his head to a free-kick, delivered from inside his team's own half, in front of Mitu with the 'keeper's defence ball-watching; his header looped over the goalie and was heading in to an empty net only for a defender to slide in and clear the ball a couple of feet before the goal-line.

Fola had won the first leg, then, but by a smaller margin than what it could have been, having failed to take the chances presented to them in the first half-hour or so and having failed to create more. Milsami could look back with some satisfaction on the match, having weathered the Fola storm after conceding an early goal and eventually scoring a late one of their own. After the match, both Fola manager Jeff Strasser and vice-president Gilbert Goergen expressed satisfaction that the team had won the home leg and were hopeful that this would eventually see them through to the next round, but they were under no illusions about the task awaiting their players in Moldova in the second leg.

FOLA ESCH: 1 Thomas HYM, 8 Veldin MUHAREMOVIC, 10 Jakob DALLEVEDOVE, 11 Corentin KOCUR (20 Michel BECHTOLD), 15 Samir HADJI, 22 Enis SAITI (27 Stefano BENSI), 23 Tom LATERZA, 24 Mehdi KIRCH, 26 Ryan KLAPP (3 Alexander CVETKOVIC), 28 Julien KLEIN, 44 Peter CHRAPPAN

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 33 Emanuel CABRAL, 9 Christophe MARTIN-SUAREZ, 14 Cédric SACRAS, 21 Roman PIERRARD

MILSAMI ORHEI: I Radu MITU, 2 Artur CRACIUN, 6 Constantin BOGDAN, 9 Maxim ANTONIUC, 15 Vladimir RASSULOV (19 Andrei RUSNAC), 16 Alexandru ANTONIUC, 17 Andrea COJOCARI, 18 Alexandru DULGHIER (4 Vasile JARDAN), 22 Dinu GRAUR, 24 Eugeniu CELEADNIC (11 Dan CIOBANU), 28 Sergiu PLATICA

SUBSTITUES (unused): 21 Cristian APOSTOLACHI, 10 Gheorghe ANDRONIC, 20 Alexandru BELEVSCHI

FOOTNOTE: Milsani and Fola played their return leg at Orhei's District Sport Complex a week after they met at the Stade Émile Mayrisch. Alexandru Antoniuc gave Milsami the lead from a free-kick after 37 minutes, but Jakob Dallevedove restored parity on the night - and put Fola in front on aggregate - when he scored in the 59th minute. The home side ended the match with ten men when Dinu Graur was sent off for a second bookable offence with four minutes left. Fola qualified for the second round 3:2 on aggregate; they would be meeting Azeri side Inter Baku, with the first leg in Azerbaijan on 12 July.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The above article is part of a series of articles on football in Luxembourg, which will be rolled out over the next few months. Match reports, interviews and a couple of articles will come together under the  #ProjectLuxey umbrella.

Many thanks to one and all at Fola Esch for their kindness, patience and hospitality, and for providing the official line-ups. Any and all errors in the above article are of course, the author's own (as are all of the photographs used). A fuller article on Fola will come in good time.

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