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Watch: Gżira United eye winning start against Athletic Escaldes

Gżira United striker Maxuell Maia (centre) in a light moment during training. Photo: Gzira United FC

Gżira United will be looking to kickstart their UEFA Europa Conference League commitments with a win when they host Andorran side Athletic Escaldes, of Andorra, in the opening leg from the first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday evening (kick-off: 7pm).

On paper, the Maltese Premier League side will start as favourites to progress at the expense of the Andorran opponents. However, if last season’s experience in the Conference League should go by, Gżira United may well not underestimate the threat posed by Athletic Escaldes.

Last summer, the Maroons needed a tense penalty shoot-out to eliminate fellow Andorran side Saint Julia after the tie had ended in a 1-1 draw and coach Darren Abdilla is not taking this season’s opponents lightly.

“For us this match is a bit of a journey into the unknown as Athletic Escaldes is a club that has not been formed for many years,” the Gżira United coach said.

“The club’s administration is formed by relatively young people and they are in their first experience in a UEFA club competition so no doubt they will be fully motivated and enthusiastic ahead of this tie.

“As we experienced last season, in these days Andorran teams have very few players from their country. With the country being close to the border to Spain and France they will have many players from there.

“Since last season, Athletic Escaldes have changed their coach and have brought in more than eight new players so we don’t have much information on them.

“But for me the most important thing will be how the team performs on the day. We need to believe in our ability and try and get the win that will set us nicely for next week’s second leg in Andorra.”

Abdilla is boosted by the return of several key players who missed the 2021-22 season due to injury. One player, however, who is out of the equation is Malta midfielder Steve Pisani who has just undergone surgery and it is hoped that he recovers for the start of the Premier League season.

In the close season, Gżira United signed Marcelo Dias and brought back Luis Riascos while they have also added the signings of promising players Andy Borg and Brooklyn Borg.

“I have great belief in the players we have this year and our strength has to be our team spirit,” Abdilla said.

“The club has always believed in young talent and the signings of Andy and Brooklyn are a clear testament of our ongoing approach and I have no doubt they will be valuable additions to the squad.

“Last season we finished the campaign fourth in the Premier League and although we are setting that as our benchmark we firmly believe that we have the talent and the ambition to achieve more this season and hopefully we can challenge for honours.”

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