Steve D’Amato’s Sirens will be debuting in European competition on Thursday as they face a baptism of fire against Bulgarian giants CSKA Sofia, away from home.
Ahead of the historic first match in the Europa League qualifiers, D’Amato feels that while his side are the clear underdogs, they are greatly motivated and he will also have a full 19-man squad which travelled to Sofia on Wednesday afternoon.
“The draw was tough. All three possible opponents, Steaua Buchares, CSKA Sofia or Progres (Niederkorn), were you difficult,” D’Amato said.
“We’ve been paired against a side which has played 230 matches in UEFA competitions while this is our first game. But it is surely the most important match in our club’s history so our motivation will be greater than our adversaries because they are used to playing matches like these. However, CSKA are more experienced than us and to make things more difficult, we’re also playing abroad.”
D’Amato insists that playing only one leg, away from home, is a disadvantage for his side. This is especially because of the different surface they will be playing on.
“Away from home means we’ll be playing on turf where politically speaking, we’ve only played ten matches on such surface last season and we also train on a synthetic pitch so it’s not going to be easy,” the St. Paul’s Bay side coach remarked.
“Despite our players being in the best physical condition, they (CSKA) have already played three matches in the league while we’ve not played competitively since mid-March. So that’s a bit of a disadvantage for us.”
Sirens captain Ryan Grech, who extended his contract with the club back in June, looks forward to the fixture while echoing his coach’s words.
“We’re looking at the match as the climax to last season so it’s going to be a historic match,” Grech explained.
“We’re optimistic even though we’re going to be clear underdogs, but I hope we can have a good performance and result.”
Sirens will be featuring their new signings as part of their squad on Thursday. With the club bringing in players like most-capped Malta forward Michael Mifsud and former Gżira United duo Samba Tounkara and Wilfried Domoraud amongst others, D’ Amato believes they have what it takes to move forward into next season.
“Once we saw that we were losing some players (due to transfers), we needed to make some changes to strengthen the team because our ambition as a club is not only to play this match (against CSKA) but we’ve got another 30 matches in the league and we want to have a deeper and stronger squad,” D’Amato told the Times of Malta.
“We know other teams will be strong so in order to have a competitive squad, we need to get more players, and we’ve got quite a mixture.
“The foreign players we’ve got all have experience in Malta. They all played in the Maltese league – we did not risk looking for players abroad who we don’t know exactly what they’re made of, even because of the limited time we had. “Our new Maltese players range from experienced players like Michael (Mifsud) and young players like Jacob Walker who is a very promising player. I think our acquisitions complement our squad well.”