Gżira United coach Darren Abdilla has told his players that they need to step up their game by several notches if they are to overcome the challenge of Andorran side Sant Julia and progress to the second qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League.
The Maroons need a win over the Andorran side in the second leg of the first qualifying round tie at the Centenary Stadium tonight (kick-off: 8pm) following last week’s stalemate in La Vella.
However, it will be far from a straightforward task for Abdilla’s men who last week produced an opaque showing against Sant Julia and can feel lucky to leave the pitch with a goalless draw after the home side missed a series of scoring chances.
“I never thought that Sant Julia would possess such qualities,” Abdilla told The Times of Malta.
“Sant Julia have fielded several high-profile overseas players and they could have beat us easily so given the circumstances we should be pleased to come away with a goalless draw.
“However, I am very disappointed with our performance. The fact that they were superior to us from a physical point of view made all the difference on the day. I don’t want to make excuses but the four-month stoppage we had due to COVID-19 had a negative effect not only on our team but also on the national team and all the Maltese sides in the UEFA club competitions.
“We witnessed the national team struggle in their end-of-season friendlies while the clubs in Europe all suffered. Hibernians were outclassed by Flora Tallinn, Birkirkara found the going tough against a modest side like La Fiorita while Mosta may have beat Spartak Trnava but the Slovakian side dominated the match from start to finish.
“So, it’s clear the stoppage has hurt all the teams.”
Abdilla said that his team must show remarkable improvement in their game if they are to get the win needed to overcome the Andorran side.
“Our biggest weakness in our game in the first leg was the first leg was the fact that we struggled to keep hold of the ball,” he said.
“We didn’t even manage to complete four passes in a row, so we need to keep the ball better and try and create more scoring opportunities.
“More importantly, I want the players to be more aggressive and try to press them high up the pitch. In the first leg, they had too much space to move the ball and this cannot happen again in the second leg.
“The players are hurt by their performance and want to make amends.”
Abdilla has a number of injury problems to cope with ahead of today’s return leg.
Striker Maxuell is still considered doubtful after being stretchered off in the first leg in La Vella. The Brazilian almost lost consciousness after an aerial challenge which saw him suffer a blow to his head and his ribs.
Maxuell has only returned to training on Tuesday but is still touch and go whether he will be ready for the match as he is still struggling with his rib injury.
Wingback Riccardo Correa is struggling with a hamstring and is facing a race against time to be fit for the match.