A year after their historic promotion to the BOV Premier League, Sirens will face their toughest test yet – away from home – on Thursday against Bulgarian giants CSKA Sofia as they make their debut in the UEFA club competitions.
In a press conference ahead of their journey to their first Europa League fixture, president Mark Borg Hedley sounded his enthusiasm towards this historic feat for his club.
Joined by coach Steve D’Amato, captain Ryan Grech and goalkeeper David Cassar, Borg Hedley said few would have thought that only a year after their promotion to the top division, Sirens would be taking part in a European competition.
“To be honest, our goal for last season was just like that of any club which has just been promoted – to stay in the highest division of Maltese football,” Borg Hedley said.
“How things have panned out, and with a lot of work and dedication, not only did we reach our goal, but we’ve managed to clinch an opportunity to a historic participation in the first round of the UEFA Europa League.”
The Saint Paul’s Bay side ended the 2019-20 season in fourth place on 35 points, only six points below eventual champions Floriana, when football was halted abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Borg Hedley explained that circumstances are not ideal, especially as certain restrictions have not made travel plans as smooth.
While Sirens will not be facing problems getting to Sofia, their main issue is returning home.
Bulgaria has been put on the amber list by Maltese authorities which means the side and their travelling entourage will have to take a swab test before their return, with the club concerned about the lack of time they have to take such a test between their match and flight back.
However, he thanked the Malta Football Association (MFA) for their assistance in the matter.
“Present circumstances make things far from easy to travel,” he said.
“Despite these obstacles, we are determined to do our utmost so that on the day we can give our all.
“Our players are motivated, and I have a lot of confidence in them and our technical team led by Steve D’Amato.
“I want to thank the Malta Football Association for its guidance and help they’ve given us. They’ve always been there to see to our needs. We certainly wouldn’t have reached this stage without them.”
The club’s president went on to show his gratitude towards the side’s administration, technical staff and players, and especially the supporters who stood by them despite admitting they are not as much in number.
Head coach D’Amato praised his team’s success saying that the side had been in the top four for most of last season and their place in this European fixture was based on merit. He added that preparations have gone well so far.
“Our players are immensely motivated, we’ve been training regularly since the beginning of July and we’ve even managed to play five friendlies,” D’Amato said.
“Naturally, friendlies are not the same, but we’re doing our best to reach this match in the best physical condition and especially motivated, full of enthusiasm and courage from our players in this historic match for the club.”
With regards to Thursday’s fixture, Borg Hedley emphasised the enormity of their opponents. The side had been pitted in Group 13 and before the draw result, faced the prospect of playing either FC Progres Niederkorn, of Luxembourg, Romanian giants Steaua Bucharest and eventual opponents, CSKA.
“Our draw was not a favourable one and we’ve been paired against a strong team with experience in European competition,” he remarked.
“CSKA Sofia don’t need any introduction to football enthusiasts, and to add insult to injury we’ll be playing away from home as well.”