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Birkirkara, Hibernians face off in six-pointer as European race hots up

Hibs defender Ferdinando Apap (centre) looks to move past Kurt Zammit.

Birkirkara and Hibernians have little margin of error in their quest of securing European football this summer when they face off at the National Stadium this afternoon (kick-off: 2pm) as the Premier League returns after the first international window of the year.

With the title race all but sewn up in favour of Ħamrun Spartans, the race for the remaining two berths in the UEFA Conference League qualifiers reaches a decisive stage in the next four weeks with five teams sandwiched in five points for the remaining two berths for the Conference League qualifiers.

Birkirkara are currently sitting in third place on 41 points, one adrift of second-placed Gżira United and just two clear of the fifth-placed Hibernians.

Stripes coach Giovanni Tedesco said that with the league championship entering the final run-in, the next four matches will be crucial for their quest to return to European football.

“For us, the match against Hibernians is the first of four finals we have on our schedule,” the former Palermo midfielder said.

“We are aware that we are engaged in a fight with four other teams for two places in Europe and there is no margin of error for us. This weekend we have a tough match on our hands as we are up against the Malta champions, full of highly-experienced players and I am sure it’s going to be a very entertaining match.

“I hope my players show the same hunger and ambition we showed in key matches this season as we are up against a team that are capable of causing us a lot of problems.

“In the end, it’s all in our hands, the next three weeks we have other direct clashes coming up so we need to show that we deserve to play European football this summer or not.”

Tedesco is set to have a full squad at his disposal as Malta defender Enrico Pepe, who missed the opening two Euro 2024 qualifiers through injury, is back in training and is in line to be part of the squad.

On the other hand, Hibernians, under the charge of Silvio Vella, headed into the international break under huge pressure as two defeats against Marsaxlokk in the space of three weeks have seen the Paolites not only lose ground on third place but also crash out of the FA Trophy.

Today, the Paolites have the opportunity to put themselves back in contention with victory against one of their main rivals and Vella is expecting a strong response from his team.

“It’s no secret that it is a very delicate match for us,” Vella said.

“We are approaching the match in the same way we prepare for other matches and the spirit in the team is very good and we are looking forward to it. Birkirkara are passing through a very good spell and will surely put us under a lot of pressure. But I’m sure that if we are at our best we can get the result we need.”

Asked what has been his team’s major area of concern, Vella said: “After every match, I analyse every area of our team and obviously I always seek improvements in every department. But no doubt, one area that we need to be better in is when it comes to scoring goals.

“There have been several matches where we have enjoyed a lot of possession, and created chances but failed to put the ball into the net. No doubt, we need to be more ruthless if we are to win more matches.

“But I want to make it clear that since I took over here I have been very pleased with the effort put in by all the players and their application during training. This is a process that needs time but there have been some encouraging signs.

“Obviously there are good and bad days but the most important thing is that we continue to improve more as a team as that is the only way to succeed.”

Vella is sure to be without a key player this weekend as striker Jurgen Degabriele, who suffered a hamstring injury before the international window and has a fight on his hands to return on the pitch before the end of the season.

On the other hand, Kurt Shaw, who underwent knee surgery, has returned to team training and could be involved.


Gżira Utd vs Mosta 14.00
Balzan vs Ħamrun S. 16.15

Gudja Utd vs Sirens 14.00
Żebbuġ vs Valletta 16.15

Marsaxlokk vs Pieta H. 11.30

Birkirkara vs Hibernians 15.00

Sta Lucia vs Floriana 15.00

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