Hibernians coach Stefano Sanderra has told his players to give everything they have as the Paolites can put themselves on course for an historic qualification to the play-off round of the UEFA Conference League when they face FC Riga in Latvia on Thursday evening (kick-off: 7pm).
The Paolites have already rewritten the club’s history books in UEFA club competition as their aggregate win over San Marino side Folgore put the club into the third qualifying round of a UEFA club competition for the first time.
However, Sanderra believes that the team have the opportunity to reach further new ground with a positive result against a strong Riga FC side.
“This is a match that holds a lot significance for our club,” Sanderra told the Times of Malta.
“If we manage to progress, it would open the door for something historic for our club. But it’s important to point out that we are up against a very strong side and the task awaiting us is not easy.
“FC Riga have a very strong group of players with some quality overseas players. They have won Latvia’s championship for three years in a row between 2018 and 2020 and boast great experience in European football.
“It’s a very difficult tie but we go into it without much expectation. The pressure is all on FC Riga so we just need to focus on our game and ensure that we can perform to our best.”
Sanderra said that he thinks that Riga FC are the strongest side his team have faced in European football this season.
“Personally, I think that Riga FC are a better team than Flora Tallinn, who we faced in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers,” the Italian coach said.
“They have only been eliminated from the Champions League after a very close tie with Swedish side Malmo and tells you a lot about their quality. May be they are not as physical as Flora Tallinn but have great
individual qualities so it’s going to be a really huge test for us.”
The Hibernians coach is again without regular goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona who is recovering from a serious knee injury while Erjon Beu is not fit to play but otherwise, he has a full squad to choose from.
Sanderra said that it will be vital for his players to use their head and be focused if they are to make life difficult for Riga FC.
“It’s important that we play as a team,” Sanderra said.
“I want my team to be very short on the pitch with two or three players close to each other to put pressure on our opponents.
“When you play teams who are stronger than you, one has to be very methodical on the pitch and stay focused as with the smallest mistake we commit we will get punished.
“But I am looking forward to this match as the team has come a long way since our first match against Flora Tallinn and although we are still far from our best we are slowly getting there.
“The important thing is that we believe in ourselves.”