It finished honours even between Maltese champions Birkirkara FC and Slovenian title holders NK Maribor in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first leg on the Mediterranean island.
An encouraging performance by Paul Zammit's team at the Ta' Qali National Stadium nonetheless failed to produce an advantage to take to Maribor in eight days' time. The hosts' best moments came towards the end of each half as first Edward Herrera rattled the crossbar of Jasmin Handanovič's goal and then substitute Jean-Pierre Triganza hit the base of the post with Handanovič beaten.
That second scare for Ante Čačić's team came in the 89th minute, as one of four good chances for a positive-looking Birkirkara outfit in which defender Zach Muscat and the fast-running Frank Temile caught the eye. Triganza robbed Aleksander Rajčevič of the ball just outside Maribor's penalty area only to see his fine attempt strike the bottom of the upright. If that would have been ample reward for the Maltese club's efforts on the night, so too Herrera's dipping 39th-minute drive that was too much for Handanovič but not the woodwork.
However, Birkirkara's tactically sound display against diligent opponents, for whom Dejan Mezga impressed in midfield, would earn just a draw and a clean sheet. Still, the stalemate was perhaps a reflection of an even second half which whetted the appetite for the second leg in Slovenia next Wednesday, 24 July.
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