An important night looms for Ħamrun Spartans as they seek to progress in the UEFA Europa Conference League when they host Armenia’s Alashkert at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday (kick-off: 8pm).
Three decades after their last appearance, the Spartans returned to grace the fields of European football last week.
A first-half goal condemned them to defeat in the East European country but has not written off Ħamrun’s chances from advancing in this competition.
In fact, coach Branko Nisevic is upbeat about his team’s chances of turning the tie in their favour, having lost narrowly by just one goal.
“Our objective in the first leg was to keep this tie open ahead of the second leg,” Nisevic told the Times of Malta.
“The 1-0 defeat keeps all options open.”
The Maltese representatives will have to resume where they had left off in the second half of last week’s game in Armenia.
The Spartans dominated proceedings, pegging their opponents into their own half. However, they will need to capitalise on their possession knowing they have to score at least a goal to send the second leg into extra-time.
In Armenia, Ħamrun mustered more attacks than Alashkert but failed to record a single shot on target – Something that the Spartans need to improve on if they want to see themselves in the second round of the Europa Conference League.
“We are aware that in order to qualify we have to win and to win, we need to score goals,” the former Malta assistant coach explained.
“In fact, during the recent training sessions we have worked a lot on how to break down their defensive lines in order to produce goals.”
Asked about what type of approach Ħamrum will adapt to this game, Nisevic underlined that given the nature of his team’s playing style he believes that they can dominate possession during the match.
“Generally speaking, our style of play is possession-based football so our aim is to dominate games through possession,” Nisevic explained.
“In the first leg, Alashkert did press us high in the early stages of the game.
“However, in the second half we managed to impose our game and in fact Alashkert stayed in their own half as we had the lion’s share of possession.”
Nisevic expects Alashkert to be more cautious tonight, trying to catch Ħamrun on the break.
“We have to be technically precise, without losing possession as we try to find gaps to find the net,” Ħamrun’s coach said.
For this game, coach Nisevic has all players available except for Gozitan Stefan Cassar who is sidelined with an injury, and Moussa Sowe who joined the Spartans during this summer transfer window.
“Obviously, I cannot say what the starting formation will be but last week’s starting players are all available for selection,” Nisevic said.
That means that the new signings that were given the nod last week – Ognjen Belicic, Ryan Camenzuli, Ederson, Jonny and Elvis Mashike – are all in contention to start again as the Spartans eye a European qualification for just the second time in nine appearances in UEFA club competitions.