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Ħamrun, Birkirkara eye spark with semi-final berth on the line

Ħamrun forward Joseph Mbong (centre) tries to beat Birkirkara goalkeeper Giacomo Nava. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Ħamrun Spartans and Birkirkara will renew their rivalry in a winner-take-all clash from the IZIBET FA Trophy quarter-finals, just one week after the two sides cancelled each other in a fascinating goalless draw in the Premier League.

So far this season, there has been little separating these two sides with both clashes ending in a goalless draw. But come this evening, one team or another will have to secure victory as should the match end in a draw, extra-time, and penalties would be needed to decide who will proceed to the FA Trophy semi-finals.

While Ħamrun Spartans may be seen as slight favourites for the tie given the dominant position they enjoy in the Premier League this season, Birkirkara, however, have shown time and again that they are capable of providing a stiff challenge to the Reds and will fancy their chances of at least ending their hopes of a league and cup double.

Branko Nisevic, the Ħamrun Spartans coach, is aware of the difficult task awaiting his team and has urged his players to step up their game if they are to remain in the hunt of ending a 30-year-wait and lift the FA Trophy next May.

“This is going to be another very tough match,” Nisevic told the Times of Malta.

“We have already played Birkirkara twice this season and both matches turned out to be very balanced with nothing
separating either side.

“As we saw last week, Birkirkara have a very good group of players, strong in all departments, and who are very aggressive, and give very little space to their opponents to operate while upfront they have some quality forwards in Lecao and Cabrera.

“For me, they are one of the best teams in Malta and we need to do better than last week if we are to get the win we want.”

Asked what were his main concerns on his team’s performance last week, Nisevic said: “Definitely we moved the ball too slowly and that gave ample time for Birkirkara to close all spaces.

“We can definitely play at a much higher pace to create spaces in the opponents’ defence. Added to that I felt that we were not aggressive enough and we also have to play with a higher intensity.

“Cup ties are completely different to league matches as there has to be a winner and every situation and incident can decide a match. I hope we can replicate the kind of performances we showed against big teams like Hibernians and Gżira United to attain the result we all want.”

On his part, Giovanni Tedesco, the Birkirkara coach said that all the pressure was on Ħamrun Spartans and said that his team were relishing this cup tie against the best team in Malta and creating something special for the club fans.

“Cup ties are always great occasions and I expect a great atmosphere on Saturday with both clubs set to attract a higher number of fans than usual for the match,” the Italian said.

“I expect my players to show the same spirit and determination shown last week but we need to improve in the final third of the pitch as it is there where you can hurt your opponent. In that sense, the return of Enzo Cabrera is a huge boost for us as he can be a huge threat in the final third for us.

“The team has been playing well in the last few weeks and the most important thing for us on Saturday is that the players show the same hunger and ambition that saw us come from behind and beat Balzan in the previous round.

“Against Balzan, when the team looked set to bow out there was a great reaction from the players, and managed to claw themselves back into the match and in the end managed to win the game.

“That is the kind of spirit needed if we are to upset the odds and beat Ħamrun Spartans. I firmly believe in my players and hopefully, we can create something special for our fans.”

PROGRAMME

PLAYING TODAY

CENTENARY STADIUM
Gżira Utd vs Gudja Utd 14.00
NATIONAL STADIUM
Birkirkara vs Ħamrun S. 16.00

TOMORROW

CENTENARY STADIUM
Mosta vs San Ġwann 14.00
NATIONAL STADIUM
Hibernians vs Marsaxlokk 16.00

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