Tough task awaits Gżira United at Rijeka
Birkirkara are ready to give everything they have to try and upset Slovenian giants Olimpija Ljubljana and progress to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League when the two sides meet for the second leg at the Centenary Stadium this evening (kick-off: 6pm).
Last week, the Stripes conceded a late goal in Ljubljana that condemned them to a 1-0 defeat in a match which saw them share the exchanges.
However, a defensive lapse with just over 12 minutes left proved costly for Birkirkara as Ljubljana grabbed the winner that earned them the edge before today’s second leg.
Malta has already one team assured of a place in the third qualifying round, when on Tuesday, Hibernians saw off San Marino side Folgore 4-2 at the Centenary Stadium to seal a 7-3 aggregate win.
Birkirkara are determined to follow their Premier League rivals into the next round but they need to play a perfect match to see off the two-time Slovenian champions.
“It was clearly disappointing to lose last week’s first leg in Slovenia, particularly for what we did for the majority of the match,” Birkirkara coach Andre Paus told the Times of Malta.
“But despite the defeat I think it was still a good result for us as we are still in the tie. Of course, it’s going to be very difficult to qualify as we are playing against a very good team.
“I firmly believe that there is a chance for us to progress and we are going to do everything we can to try and upset our opponents.”
The Birkirkara coach is boosted by having a full complement for tonight’s match as all players in the squad are available for selection.
Paus said that his team needs to score if they are to qualify but to do that they need to show more sharpness, particularly in the final third of the pitch.
“One thing that I felt that we need to improve is our decision-making in the final third of the pitch,” the former Valletta FC coach said.
“In the first leg we did not make good use of the ball and had we made better decisions in the final third of the pitch we could have created big scoring opportunities. But the important thing is that we are still in the game and we have to score, it’s as simple as that.
“Obviously, it will be very important for us to show the same kind of tactical organisation and make sure we keep our levels of concentration high throughout the whole 90 minutes.
“In the first leg we committed one mistake and we were punished, and we cannot repeat that in the second match.”
On the other hand, Gżira United face a very tough task to reach the next round when they travel to Rijeka, of Croatia, looking to overturn a 2-0 defeat suffered in the first leg tie at the Centenary Stadium.
Darren Abdilla’s men start tonight’s match as the underdogs but the Maroons can draw inspiration from one of the greatest nights in their history of European club competition when two years ago they upset Hajduk Split following a 3-1 win in Croatia.
But to attain their objective, Gżira United must produce a much sharper performance than last week where defensive mistakes proved costly for the Maroons while upfront the team failed to take the chances that came their way.