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Valletta match crucial for Stripes’ Euro hopes – Paus

Birkirkara defender Enrico Pepe (centre) moves past Kyrian Nwoko. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Birkirkara will be looking to put their quest for a place in the Europa League qualifiers back on track this evening when they take on Valletta at the National Stadium (kick-off: 6.30pm).

Last weekend, the Stripes saw their impressive unbeaten run
of 12 matches come to a halt after suffering a 2-0 defeat to Premier League leaders Ħamrun Spartans.

The result left Birkirkara in fifth place on 34 points, however, a win against the Citizens this evening will enable Andre Paus’ men to leapfrog Sliema Wanderers in fourth place and keep alive their hopes of European football.

The Birkirkara coach admitted that the defeat to Ħamrun Spartans was hard to fathom, particularly given the high percentage of possession his team enjoyed against the Premier League leaders.

“To lose against Ħamrun Spartans was a disappointing result for us,” Paus said.

“When you play against a top-quality team like Ħamrun you need to put in a high-level performance and I felt that we failed to do that.

“Still, I felt that having enjoyed 61 per cent of possession throughout the 90 minutes, a draw would have been a better reflection of the game.

“But now we need to put that match behind us and focus on our next two matches against Valletta and Sliema Wanderers that are crucial for our chances of qualifying for European football.

“The match against Valletta is a six-pointer as if we manage to prevail against them we would open a considerable lead over them.

“To achieve this target, we need to return to the level of performances before the Ħamrun match and it will be important that we make the most of the chances that we create.”

Paus is boosted by the return of two key players for the match against Valletta as Brazilian defender Oscar Carniello and Argentine striker Federico Falcone will be back in contention after missing the Ħamrun match due to suspension.

The Dutch coach said that one area his team needed to improve when facing his former employers was their decision-making in key moments of the match.

“It’s good to have a good spell in possession during matches but what is even more important is that you have the lucidity to make the right decisions to open up your opponents,” Paus said.

“When you play against good teams you don’t have much time to think on a good solution to finish off your moves as they press high. On the other hand, when you play against more modest sides you have more time to think your next move.

“It’s important for us to be focused and ensure that we try and express our best football on a consistent level.”

Valletta, on the other hand, come into this match in good spirits after they managed to bag two wins in the space of four days after defeating Gudja United in the FA Trophy before edging Sirens in the Premier League last weekend.

Coach Antonio Jose Cardoso Mendes said that those victories have inevitably injected much-needed confidence in the Valletta camp who are currently experiencing one of their most difficult Premier League campaigns this season.

“Our wins over Gudja United and Sirens have certainly help to boost our confidence,” Cardoso Mendes, aka Toze, said.

“When you win matches, it will instill more self-belief and help us to believe more in our game model.

“Hopefully, these positive results will help us to approach our next matches in a more relaxed mood and hopefully will help the players to take more risks and be more confident with the ball in our feet.

“The match against Birkirkara will be a huge test for us as we know we are facing a very strong side who before the defeat to Ħamrun, enjoyed an impressive run of results. So no doubt, this will be a great challenge for us.”

Toze has struggled with injuries and suspensions in recent weeks and the situation has not improved at Valletta for this match as the Portuguese coach is without goalkeeper Henry Bonello and defender Ryan Camilleri who must serve a one-match ban while Serbian defender Ivan Maric has joined a long list of injured players after limping out in the first half of Sunday’s win over Sirens.

“Unfortunately, our injury problems see no signs of abating,” Toze said.

“We have many injured players at the moment and we are working very hard to recover them.

“Unfortunately, our bid was not helped by having the team ending in a 15-day quarantine with the result that we could not work on these players’ recovery and then ended up with a piled-up fixtures list

“Since January 22 we have played seven matches so far with a very restricted group of players who are now feeling the strains of playing so many matches. Now it’s time that we show heart and determination to try and pass this difficult period.”

First round result: Birkirkara vs Valletta 2-4.

PLAYING TODAY

NATIONAL STADIUM
Valletta vs Birkirkara 18.30
CENTENARY STADIUM
Senglea Ath. vs Lija Ath. 17.00
Gudja United vs Mosta 21.00

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