Ħamrun Spartans start as clear underdogs in Thursday’s UEFA Conference League Play Off round against Serbian giants FK Partizan. Serbian journalist Milan Zdravkocic spoke with Gianluca Lia and gave an insight on what the Spartans can expect in Belgrade on Thursday night.
Partizan Belgrade’s two-legged tie against Ħamrun Spartans comes at a very delicate moment in their season.
For Partizan Belgrade, this UEFA Conference League tie is very important because should they get eliminated by the Maltese club, that would halt their run in Europe already by August.
Last season, the Serbian side reached the last 16 of the same competition before being eliminated by eventual finalists Feyenoord.
They launched this season’s European journey with a third qualifying round tie against Cypriot side AEK Larnaca, in the UEFA Europa League.
A 2-1 defeat in Cyprus and 2-2 on home soil saw Partizan Belgrade drop into the Europa Conference League amid the frustration of the home fans who made their thoughts clear in the aftermath of last week’s game.
If their league form is anything to go by, Partizan are struggling to find their form as they have only registered eight points in five league matches so far.
Their latest league outing was a trip to Mladost which earned them their first win under new coach Gordan Petric, courtesy of a 95th-minute winner.
Nonetheless, the Partizan environment does not seem thrilled with the appointment of the new coach.
“I think the environment is not good at all,” Serbian journalist Milan Zdravkocic told the Times of Malta.
“The fans are still disappointed with the board’s decisions and Partizan’s win in stoppage time over the weekend did not improve the mood.
“The fans expected a good and proven coach to take the job, but instead they appointed a former player and unproven coach like (Gordan) Petric.”
During his coaching career, Petric has mostly served as an assistant coach while his only term as a first-team coach was in Slovenia at Gorica, only to part ways after just three months into his experience.
Asked about how the Partizan Belgrade environment is viewing their head-to-head with Ħamrun, Zdravkovic said that this is a highly-important game for the Serbian side.
“Partizan Belgrade will take the game seriously because if they are eliminated, their European season comes to an abrupt end.” he said.
“The Serbian media is confident that Partizan Belgrade will show their qualities against Ħamrun Spartans, but we will have to wait and see.”
Despite going through a difficult patch, Partizan Belgrade can bank on several experienced players who can be of a threat against the Spartans.
Zdravkovic pointed out at three particular players – Bibras Natcho, Ricardo Gomes (picture) and Fousseni Diabate.
Midfielder Natcho, 34, is an Israel international and who has played with other notable clubs like CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos. He has two goals and one assist in six Partizan Belgrade’s games this season so far.
Ricardo Gomes, who plays as a forward, is a Cape Verde international and has four goals in 14 international games.
Gomes, 30, has played in Portugal, Turkey and United Arab Emirates and he is in his second spell with Partizan Belgrade. Has four goals and two assists in six games in this 2022/2023 season.
Mali international Fousseni Diabate, 26, joined Partizan Belgrade and has already played four games in this campaign so far.
He had spells in England at Leicester City, in France at Amiens and in Turkey at current champions Trabzonspor.