Gżira United coach Darren Abdilla could not hide his delight after watching his teams secure their place in the second qualifying round of the Conference League after edging past Andorra’s Atletic d’Escaldes 1-0 in extra-time on Thursday.
A fine goal from Brazilian forward Jefferson swung the tie in favour of the Maltese side who will now take on Serbian giants Radnicki in next week’s first leg at the Centenary Stadium.
Gżira United’s qualification was far from straightforward as they had to dig deep to fend off Atletic d’Escaldes who had been the better side throughout much of the first hour of the match in Andorra.
“In my opinion, Atletic d’Escaldes are one of the best teams we ever played in European competition,” Abdilla told the Times of Malta.
“They were a very organised side and had the better chances and to be completely honest we were a bit surprised that we made it through. But my team deserves all the praise as they showed great patience and when the opportunity to strike came we took it with both hands.
“Our first half performance was not very good. The team got caught a few times and our goalkeeper effected a fine save to keep us level. Then at half-time I made some tactical changes, switching from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3, and sending on Ricardo Correa for Jackson Mendoza and we started to play better and created more chances.
“Then just before the final whistle I roped in Clive Gauci and Brookly Borg and it turned out to be the winning card as Brooklyn provided the assist for Jefferson to fire home the winner and from then on we controlled easily.”
Abdilla is aware that things will get much tougher next week when they face Radnicki, a team they had already met in the Europa League four years ago with the Serbians coasting through 5-0 on aggregate.
“Radnicki will be a very tough opponent for us,” Abdilla said.
“They finished third in the Serbian Superliga, behind Red Star and Partizan Belgrade and we have first-hand experience of their strength as we have met them a few years ago.
“But I am still looking forward to this tie. I firmly believe in the ability of my players and we will do our best. The goal, as always, will be to try and keep the tie open ahead of the second leg.”
On a personal level, Gżira’s qualification was also another landmark for Abdilla who has always managed to lead his team to at least one round in UEFA competition. In fact, he did it three times with Gżira United and once with Valletta.
“I am really happy personally as since I started competing in UEFA club competitions I always manage to pass one round in UEFA competitions,” Abdilla said.
“Personally, the achievement takes more significance when one considers the limited resources we work with and the quality of the squad we have.
“Unfortunately, here in Malta, Maltese coaches do not receive the same recognition as foreigners but at the end of the day I let my work speak for myself.”
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