The stakes will be very high for both Birkikara and Gżira United when they face off in the Premier League this afternoon as the race for the final two places in this summer’s UEFA Conference League reaches a climax between Saturday and Monday.
Last weekend, Birkirkara pummeled Hibernians 5-0 to leapfrog Gżira United into second place of the Premier League standings on 44 points, and put themselves in a strong position as they are two clear of the Maroons and four ahead of Mosta and Balzan who are tied in fourth place.
On the other hand, pressure is growing on Gżira United after the Maroons suffered a third successive defeat last week to Mosta and will be aware that another slip up this afternoon could potentially see them drop out of the top three places if there is a winner in the clash between Mosta and Balzan on Monday.
Darrin Abdilla, the Gżira United coach, admitted that his team were under intense pressure following their poor run of results and it was time for his players to show their real character at this difficult time.
“There’s no hiding that recent results have put us in a very difficult situation in our quest for European football,” Abdilla said.
“Now is the time when the real character of the players has to emerge and give everything that we have on the pitch.
“For the majority of the season, we managed to stay in the two European places and now is the time to show that we weren’t there by chance but we deserved those positions.
“It’s true that we are passing through a difficult period but we have a point to prove and we need to deliver the best possible performance against Birkirkara.”
Against Mosta last week, Gżira United dominated long spells of the match but their failure of taking their chances came back to haunt them as Mosta punished their profligacy to take home a crucial victory.
Abdilla said that their failure to put the ball into the net is becoming major concern at the moment.
“We are simply not scoring enough goals at the moment and that is costing us dearly,” Abdilla admitted. “If you look at our last matches, we are creating a lot of chances but we are not converting them.
“That surely has to change against a team of the calibre of Birkirkara who are passing through a very impressive spell at the moment as their 5-0 win over Hibernians amply testifies.
“We need to be ruthless against them or we risk to get punished again.”
Abdilla is without Brazilian forward Maxuell Samurai who underwent knee surgery while defender Luke Tabone must serve a one-match ban.
While Gżira United are going through a difficult spell, Birkirkara are absolutely flying at the moment.
Giovanni Tedesco’s team are unbeaten in their last five matches, which were all direct clashes against top six opposition, and last week’s 5-0 thumping against Hibs was a real show of force.
But Tedesco is not resting on his laurels and wants his team to show the same hunger and ambition against Gżira United as they are on the brink of a return to European football.
“I was delighted with our performance against Hibernians as the players showed great desire and intensity, particularly in the first half that paved the way to a very important victory,” Tedesco said.
“But our job is not done yet. We have another direct clash against a team, who in my opinion, are the second strongest team in the division behind Ħamrun Spartans and we need to produce another impressive display.
“We are facing a team who at the moment have a lot of motivation to win the match as they are hurting after the defeat to Mosta.”
Tedesco said that Birkirkara had come a long way since the start of the season when few people believed that the Stripes could challenge for a place in Europe.
But the Italian says that now it was time for his Birkirkara players to finish the job and provide the best response to all those who doubted their potential.
“What this team has done in the last three months, in particular, is something extraordinary. We are unbeaten in the last 13 matches, between league and cup, but what satisfied me most is the intensity and work ethic shown by the players in every single match,” Tedesco said.
“Now it’s time to move a step closer to our dream of returning to European football but to achieve that we cannot afford to lower our standards. There are five teams battling for two places and are separated by just a few points so a defeat could see us lose control of our fate.
“We need to keep pushing and the only way to prove that we deserve a place in European football is by putting on a strong performance on the pitch.”
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