Gżira United face Serbian opposition in the UEFA Conference League second qualifying round as they host FK Radnicki Nis at the Centenary Stadium today (kick-off: 19.00).
This will be the second time these two teams clash in European competition after facing each other back in 2018 in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers, the Serbian outfit progressing after a 5-0 aggregate win. However, both sides believe it will be a different story this time around.
“We played Radnicki four years ago – It was a totally different experience,” Gżira coach Darren Abdilla said, addressing a pre-match press conference.
“We were new to European competition and now things have changed. I moved to another club and came back and there have been changes also in Radnicki.
“We gained a lot of experience and now we know what to expect so I think we’ve learned our lesson, especially when we travel to Serbia. Hopefully, it will be a different experience.”
While the Serbian side have already started their season – a loss to Red Star Belgrade and a draw to Partizan Belgrade – Gżira’s only official commitments this summer have been the two legs of the Conference League first qualifying round against Atletic Escaldes.
“I think it’s difficult that they already played two high profile games against two rivals at a high tempo, which unfortunately we haven’t played yet. So, I think it’s an advantage for them,” Abdilla told the Times of Malta.
“The good thing about them playing two games is that we had the opportunity to analyse them in both games and we could see their strengths and their weaknesses which were evident.
“The fact that we played 120 minutes away from home (against Escaldes) was not ideal but we’re happy with our staff, they did a good job in recovering the players. I think the players are in top condition so I don’t think it will make any difference that last week we’ve played 120 minutes.”
In spite of this, Abdilla admitted there will be a number of changes to his squad which require further analysis ahead of today’s match.
On the other hand, Radnicki coach Tomislav Sivic, who also assured the team would be making some changes to his starting 11, has the club’s history on his agenda as he believes the club has a legacy of positive European results to maintain.
“Tomorrow (Thursday) is the game we were waiting for from the start. Radnicki have a history of good results in Europe and we have respect for this,” Sivic said, “We have to show on the pitch that we are ready – we have two games to tell us this.”
Asked about how their first two league matches can help them overcome Gżira today, the Radnicki coach explained that they give his side the confidence to show their strength on the pitch.
“We played two games in the national championship against two very strong teams and our attitude in those two games gives us hope and confidence to start tomorrow to be aggressive and positive from the beginning,” he said.
“We want a qualification to the third round, and we will do everything on the pitch to achieve this. The plan is to
continue playing like the first two games. We saw Gżira games and we know about them, and we have to show on the pitch that we want to win the game.
“The Conference league is the kind of championship that everybody has a chance in, so we know that Gżira also have this chance like us and it’s good. We will try to take an advantage in tomorrow’s game and after the game, we will see for the next one.”