Hibernians will open this season’s European adventure with a tough trip to Irish side Shamrock Rovers in the opening leg of the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round on Tuesday night (kick-off: 8.30pm).
Buoyed by their ‘heroics’ in last season’s participation in the UEFA club competition, which has seen the Malta champions coming agonisingly close to reaching the Play-Off round of the UEFA Conference League, the Paolites will be keen to try and make further progression this season.
This season, Hibernians have almost a new set of overseas players who are still finding their feet after joining the club in recent weeks while the suspension of several key players such as defenders Andrei Agius and Ferdinando Apap and midfielders Jake Grech and Bjorn Kristensen will no doubt have an effect on how competitive the team will be so early in their European challenge.
The Paolites will be led from the dug-out by assistant coach Ryan Pulis in the absence of coach Stefano Sanderra who starts a three-match ban.
Pulis said that the Malta champions are happy to take the tag of ‘underdogs’ in this tie against Irish champions Shamrock Rovers but are determined to try and eke out a positive result that would keep their hopes of progression alive ahead of next week’s second leg at the Centenary Stadium.
“The is a very important and prestigious match for us,” Pulis told the Times of Malta.
“It’s a great position for the club to be able to play in the Champions League. No doubt, Shamrock Rovers are at an advantage over us in terms of physical preparation as they have already played 23 matches this season while we are at the start of the campaign.
“The only way for us to compensate for this is with a good tactical plan. But personally, I believe that the most important factor for us has to be that we show the right fighting spirit and character.
“If you read the Irish newspapers, Shamrock Rovers are considering themselves to be the favourites. I have no doubt that our players are determined to give more than 100 per cent to prove them wrong.
“This tie is only decided after 180 minutes and Tuesday’s match is just the first part. We need to keep in mind that there is a lot of work to do but if all the players apply themselves and take their chances we can upset them.”
Pulis admitted that having so many new players in the squad means that it will take time before Hibernians will start to show its real quality and warned that they needed to match the intensity of
their opponents if they are to succeed.
“We are still in our fourth week of pre-season preparation so we still need time,” Pulis said.
“The club has brought in some quality signings that will help the team. However, we need to work hard to transmit to them the mentality of Hibernians FC and that of our coach. So far the response has been very good.
“Shamrock Rovers are a team who play with a lot of intensity, like a typical British team. It is very important that we avoid to get caught in transitional play as they can hurt us. But hopefully the players will be ready to do the job.”
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