Gżira United have written a new chapter in their club’s history after marking their third qualifying round debut with an impressive draw against Austrian Bundesliga side Wolfsberger AC.
On paper, qualification might have looked a bit far-fetched for the Maroons but given their heroics against Radnicki and this encouraging result in Austria, Gżira are now well-placed to extend their historic run in Europe.
Wolfsberger, who have already started their Bundesliga campaign in Austria, are striving to make it into the group stages of this competition as they continue to establish themselves in their home nation.
The Austrians have already played twice in the group phase of the UEFA Europa League – in 2019/2020 and 2020/2021- while Gżira were making just their first appearance at this stage of any European competition.
However, Gżira were not fazed by their opponents and actually it seemed that they were relishing the opportunity to take on such an important team.
Gżira coach Darren Abdilla welcomed back forward Maxuell from the start whose runs into space and physical duels were crucial in helping the Maroons to hold on to the ball as much as possible.
At the heart of the midfield, Luis Riascos returned to the starting formation and repaid Abdilla’s trust with a hardworking performance as he marshalled the backline.
As expected, Wolfsberger dominated proceedings even though they failed to capitalise on their 71% of possession. Seven of their 20 total shots were on target with Gżira goalkeeper Darijan Zarkov producing another strong showing in Europe.
The Croatian goalkeeper made a string of remarkable saves which highlighted his qualities between the sticks, strengthening Gżira’s decision to keep banking on his services.
“We played for the result and in the end we managed to reach our goal,” Abdilla told a news conference after the game.
“We were aware that we would be playing under pressure against such a strong side.”
What has impressed most of this Gżira side in Europe is the patience and composure that they have been showing in both defensive and offensive phases.
Such features have enabled the Maroons to go five matches unbeaten in this competition so far, including two draws against Radnicki and a clean sheet against Wolfsberger.
Having eliminated notable clubs like Hajduk Split and Radnicki, Gżira are no strangers to upsets in the qualification stages of a UEFA club competition.
Targeting qualification against Wolfsberger seems even more realistic now and buoyed by the home support that they will receive at the Centenary Stadium next week, Gżira can surely give it a shot.
“This was just the first half,” Abdilla said.
“We believe in ourselves although we need to have a better performance at home.
“We will be playing on artificial grass and that is an advantage for us because we are used to it.”
For coach Abdilla, this result in Austria meant that he has now obtained 12 positive results in his 19 European games in charge between Gżira United and Valletta.
At the helm of the Maroons, Abdilla has managed to record five wins and four draws in 13 appearances.
Back in 2018/2019, Gżira hosted Andorra’s Sant Julia for their first European game in 45 years. Since then, they played 17 times in Europe and managed to record 11 positive results.
A remarkable feat for a club that is now eyeing to become the first Maltese side to make it into the play-off round of a European competition.