Ħamrun Spartans coach Branko Nisevic heaped praise on the character shown by his players as the 2021 Malta champions beat Velez Mostar, of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1-0 to reach the third qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League.
Brazilian striker Jonny grabbed the all-important goal early in the first half that handed the Spartans a 2-0 aggregate win and a place in the third qualifying round of a UEFA club competition for the first time in their club history.
It was far from a comfortable night for the Spartans who had to battle valiantly to see off the stern challenge offered by Velez who produced a much more aggressive challenge than the first leg.
But the Ħamrun players held firm to contain their opponents’ efforts and secure another prestigious result in European football.
“My biggest satisfaction is the fact that we manage to win both legs against Velez Mostar without conceding a goal,” coach Nisevic told the Times of Malta.
“It’s a remarkable feat when you realise that we achieved that with a new squad of players. It’s not easy to amalgamate a new group of players in just a short span of time. But the players seem to have settled nicely together and more importantly they have accepted the team’s style of play.
“So for me, it’s not a surprise that we achieved some good results.”
Nisevic said that for the umpteenth time his players showed great fighting qualities and that is key to progress in Europe.
“The players again showed tremendous character,” Nisevic said.
“In the build-up to the match, I spoke to my players that when you play in a European competition the level of football is very demanding. In these kind of games, tactical organisation and technique are very important. But the most important factor is the players character. You have to fight to get the right result and the players did that in abundance against Velez Mostar.
“To be honest I never expected that all would fall into place so quickly. Velez, for example, have a new coach and changed some players and seem to be in a transition. They are playing in a new way and have yet to show their best.
“For us things have worked nicely and it is all down as we made a good choice of players who fitted perfectly to our style of play.”
Nisevic admitted that Thursday’s match had also shown that some players had shown signs of fatigue and he admitted that he will have to make use of all his squad in the next matches to ensure the team arrives in good fettle for the start of the Premier League in two weeks’ time.
“At the moment we have a chore of 12 players who played most of the time,” Nisevic said.
“These players are starting to show signs of fatigue and we need to make sure that we manage their condition wisely. We need to plan in a way that all 20 players will be in a good condition for the next matches in Europe and the start of the Premier League, which is also very important.
“Now we have a tough tie coming up against Levski Sofia, who are a formidable team who play in a similar fashion to us and we need to be at our best to give them the best possible challenge.”