Urges players not to get carried away ahead of tough Velez Mostar tie
Ħamrun Spartans coach Branko Nisevic hailed his team’s fighting spirit and determination after the 2021 Malta champions produced a memorable comeback on their return to European football as they stunned Armenia’s Alashkert 4-1 to reach the second qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League.
It looked as though the Spartans were set for a frustrating night when they fell behind to a Yartek Yedigaryan goal early in the second half. But the Reds refused to throw in the towel and fought back strongly, scoring four goals without reply in the space of 20 minutes to set up a second qualifying round tie against Bosnia’s Velez Mostar next week.
“It was a memorable night,” Nisevic told the Times of Malta.
“If I had to look back at the match, there were two things that contributed to this result – character and commitment. When the team conceded the goal and found themselves two goals down the players showed great character. They said to themselves we can do more and they did more. This is one moment where we showed great character and I’m so proud of my players.
“Then there was a lot of commitment to the cause. To give you an example, our goalkeeper Henry Bonello suffered a hamstring injury during the warm-up in the opening leg and he underwent some medical treatment and still played the game.
“When we came back, he didn’t train for four days but still he told us that he wanted to play and he did some light training in the last two days and played the full 90 minutes and that shows how committed and ready to make sacrifices our players are, which is a major plus in such instances.”
Such a prestigious victory on European soil is certainly a huge injection of confidence for the Spartans but Nisevic said that it was important for his team not to get too carried away.
“This qualification is very important for us as it confirms the value of our team,” Nisevic said.
“When you bring in so many players in the close season it’s logical that sometimes you have a bit of a doubt about the level of the team. After the first leg we sensed that we had some potential and then in the second leg we managed to raise our level of performance.
“But we still haven’t achieved anything. What is important is that it gives us confidence for the upcoming matches. It’s important that we always approach matches with the right frame of mind and make sure we don’t get carried away as it is there that the problems will start.”
Next up for the Spartans is a tougher test against Bosnian side Velez Mostar, winners of their domestic Cup last season. The first leg tie is scheduled for Thursday in Bosnia where the Spartans’ main goal will be to keep the tie alive ahead of the return match.
“From the first indications that I have, Velez Mostar look like being a better team than Alashkert,” the former Malta assistant coach said.
“Definitely they are going to be a tougher opponent and with the league championship starting this weekend, they will be in a better physical condition than Alashkert.
“They won the Bosnian cup last season and in the close season they changed the coach so I need to see them play to get a better idea.
“But the goal always will be to try and keep the tie open after the first game.
“If we do that anything can happen.”
Velez Mostar opened their league campaign with a goalless draw against Sarajevo.
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