Ħamrun Spartans coach Branco Nisevic praised his players’ attitude ahead of the team’s second leg fixture of their UEFA Europa Conference League qualifier against Velez Mostar on Thursday (kick-off: 20.00).
Speaking at a pre-match press conference, the Spartans coach said that even if their opponents enter the pitch with better players, if the team manages to win the ball, they will be focusing on effecting their philosophy throughout the 90 minutes.
“This is part of our style of play and to change this is difficult,” Nisevic said.
“To go out and say ‘Today we play long balls and fight for the second ball, we are not made for this.
“What we practice in our training sessions has always been an emphasis on possession. We insist on this principle, so no matter against whom we play we will always follow this.
“Tomorrow (Thursday) we might play against a team that is better than us, with players who are physically better or faster or can jump higher, but if we can win the ball we can always give them a good game, so controlling the ball is our target.”
Nisevic should have now worries as regards his squad, with all his players bar Stefan Cassar available for Thursday’s game.
However, the Ħamrun mentor admits it is the attitude from his player which will make the most difference for him.
“After the game against Alashkert at home, when we won 4-1, we were thinking that we came from a very good game, a very good performance,” Nisevic told the Times of Malta.
“If we entered into the first leg against Velez thinking that we are a very good team, that we are better than them, that is a problem.
“We spoke about it and we made it clear that while we had a good game, we didn’t win anything, we didn’t achieve anything extraordinary so far.
“Then we started with our feet on the ground – according to our principles, focused on strategy and already in the first minute, we got a shot on target.
“So I think the boys are quite mature and mentally aware of their abilities. They know that we are in a tournament which is not like local competitions so every opponent is hard or us and I think that our approach should be very much similar to the one of last match.”
Goalkeeper Henry Bonello, who effectively kept his side in the lead with a last-minute save in the first leg, joined Nisevic for the press conference.
Asked about how the team has gelled so far, the Malta international said he believes the team has adapted to each other and this helped to achieve good results in the first few matches.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room has been good. We have new players but we didn’t find it hard to synchronize with each other and obviously, as the players are very positive, this helped us achieve good performances in the first three matches,” Bonello said.
Echoing this, Nisevic said that while the squad is still a work in progress, the newcomers have caught up quickly.
“We are a team which is work in progress. We changed a number of players and I’m happy that things are happening fast – newcomers have caught up very quickly and we are getting close to our identity which appears to be present already so I hope we can continue in this way and improve in our performance,” Nisevic said.
While many factors come into play this evening, one main fact is the importance of the team’s support and how his players will react to the pressure of expectation.
“We have players who are experienced in these competitions and they know how to approach them,” he explained.
“I think that while the approach of last game was fantastic, nothing has been achieved, so we will insist on the same attitude.
“Mental preparation is very important. We played in front of a full stadium last time here and also away where the atmosphere was very noisy. We stood up to the challenge so I believe that the players can handle the pressure.
“It’s good to see good results but for me as a coach, what I like more is to see the team performing well because I know that a good performance and sacrifice on the pitch will make many people around very happy.
“We are lucky that we have this kind of support from our fans and our president and I think our target is to make these people happy and I want to assure that we will do our best to make these games ones to remember.”