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Birkirkara eyeing ‘cherry on the cake’ as Marsaxlokk look to make history

Five months since the start of this season’s FA Trophy, Maltese football fans can finally prepare for the final – a clash between BOV Premier League sides Birkirkara and Marsaxlokk at the National Stadium on Sunday (kick-off: 4PM).

Two enticing semifinal fixtures where the Stripes got the better of Mosta in a seven-goal thriller, and Marsaxlokk took it to penalties against Gzira United, led the way ahead of the title-deciding match which Birkirkara’s Yannick Yankam described as ‘the cherry on the cake’.

“At the beginning of the season, if you had to ask anyone about Birkirkara, I doubt they would have expected us to be here,” Yankam told a pre-match press conference.

“However, the mentality of taking things game by game began to reap rewards and obviously if you get enough positive results, this will take you where you want to go. When the opportunity came, both staff and players started to believe because we all know our own capabilities.”

The 25-year-old has shone this season, so much so that he earned a call-up for the national team in matches against North Macedonia – where he scored his first international goal – and Italy.

Back with the club he joined from Qormi back in 2019, Yankam was crucial to his side’s win over Mosta but admits he would rather have taken a low-scoring win on Wednesday.

“In cup football, there’s a certain atmosphere of do-or-die and we saw two sides who gave everything. Obviously, I would have preferred us keeping that 1-0 at halftime but that’s the excitement of football,” Yankam said.

“Tactically, at the end, everything went out of the window, but we kept on concentrating. Even when they drew level, we kept on believing and attacking. This is one of the squad’s forte and now Sunday could be the cherry on the cake.”

Stripes coach Giovanni Tedesco echoed his midfielder’s argument about the side’s belief, emphasising how his team had been criticised earlier on in the season.

“I can’t take any credit as only the players are on the pitch – I just have my identity and philosophy,” Tedesco told the media.

“It’s easy to comment on the squad now but in the beginning, there were a lot of critics. At the same time, no one talked about how Osvaldo (Iorio) is 22, Yannick (Yankam) is 25, (Enzo) Cabrera 23, Paul Mbong 23, so it’s a very young squad that had the belief and put in the hard work with the support of the club.”

While goalkeeper Giacomo Nava and defender Alessandro Coppola remain unavailable after having missed out on the semi-final against Mosta, centreback Enrico Pepe is a doubt for today’s clash due to trouble in his knee.

Making history

At the other end, Marsaxlokk coach Pablo Doffo believes it will be a chance for his team to change the history books.

“It is an important occasion for us to make history,” Doffo said, “this is our biggest motivator on Sunday.”

Asked about the possibility of any rotation after having played 120 minutes against Gzira in their semi-final on Wednesday, Doffo said it would be a question of fitness in training sessions prior to the match.

“I know that everyone is tired physically and mentally but knowing the fact that we’re going to play a final is an extra motivation for all the players to give an extra effort.”

Marsaxlokk are unbeaten against Birkirkara so far this season. Doffo attributes this to the ‘strength and unity’ that his side have shown throughout the season’.

“I’m really happy with the performance of the players and the work that all the people at the club did this season. This is an important occasion for us to show what we are capable of doing,” Doffo said.

“Reaching a final is not easy. Playing in the Premier League when you’re coming from the Challenge League is not easy, but the strength of the group is what put us in this important game on Sunday.”

Marsaxlokk secured their place in the Premier League with a number of matches to spare in their first season back and Doffo claimed they will continue to play in the way they have been doing throughout their campaign.

This was also brought up by captain Peter Xuereb, who lauded the club’s work in shaping the squad.

“The club has done a great job in forming our team,” Xuereb said. “They showed belief in us and because of this, we’re where we deserve to be.

“Obviously, once you’re in the final, your only plan will be to win. We know the qualities Birkirkara possess but we will enter the game to do our job and hopefully the best team wins.

“From a tactical standpoint, we always play our style of football and we will continue to do this because that is what brought us here in the first place.”

LAST 10 FINALS

2014 Valletta vs Sliema W.       1-0

2015 Birkirkara vs Hibernians 2-0

2016 Sliema W. vs Balzan         0-0

(Sliema win 5-4 on penalties)

2017 Floriana vs Sliema W.      2-0

2018 Valletta vs Birkirkara       2-1

2019 Balzan vs Valletta             4-4

(Balzan win 5-4 on penalties)

2022 Floriana vs Valletta          2-1

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