Birkirkara will have their eyes firmly set on securing a much-needed victory in their UEFA Europa Conference League campaign opener when they host San Marino side La Fiorita at the Centenary Stadium (kick-off: 8pm).
On paper, the Stripes will be seen as favourites to overcome the San Marino champions but football matches are won on the pitch and coach Andre Paus expects his players to show their real strength on Thursday evening as they look for a convincing result that would put them firmly in the driving seat ahead of next week’s second leg.
“We’ve prepared for this game for the last five or six weeks,” Paus told the Times of Malta.
“It’s normal to be a bit concerned with the fitness of our team, particularly as we haven’t played an official match for the past four months.
“But I was pleased with the work put in by my players during the last few weeks and I’m confident that we can reach the level of performance that we want.
“We will give La Fiorita the respect they deserve but we will certainly not be fearing them.
“Our goal is quite clear, to win both matches and progress to the next round.”
La Fiorita are a familiar face for Maltese football as the San Marino side faced Valletta in the first qualifying round of the Europa League in 2013, losing 3-0 in Serravalle and 1-0 at Centenary Stadium for a 4-0 aggregate defeat.
Birkirkara head into this match with a few changes to the squad that managed to place fourth in the Premier League last season.
Goalkeeper Andrea Guarnone and winger Caio Prado have left the club and have now joined Valletta FC. Brazilian winger Alex Alves has returned to his former club Balzan FC.
In the meantime, Birkirkara have signed Portuguese goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes, who last season was on the books, of Tarxien Rainbows, Brazilian midfielder Diego Venancio, formerly of Floriana FC, Ryan Scicluna returned to the club after he played for Balzan FC last season, while upfront the Stripes signed young striker Jed Valletta from St Andrews.
Paus said that he doesn’t have much information on the San Marino side but said that he will give priority to his team’s preparation. He said that he expects his players to try and keep control of the tempo of the match and try and exploit the scoring chances they create throughout the 90 minutes.
“I don’t have much details on our opponents but my focus is to ensure that my players approach the match in the right manner,” the former Valletta FC coach said.
“It will be very important that we control proceedings of the match with a dominant display in midfield. I want my players to try and create a lot of chances and score goals to ensure that we head for the second leg in San Marino in a commanding position.
“As I said, our goal is to win these two matches and progress to the second qualifying round.”