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Gżira on pole for final Euro berth but rivals ready to pounce

Gżira United's Luis Riascos battles for the ball with Balzan's Bojan Kaljevic. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Santa Lucia look to fend off Żebbuġ in play-out race

The final verdicts of the 2022-23 Premier League will be defined this evening as four teams will be chasing third place, and a berth in the UEFA Conference League qualifiers on the final day of the season.

On the other hand, Santa Lucia and Żebbuġ Rangers will be vying for the 12th spot in the Premier League standings that would see them avoid joining Pieta Hotspurs in the Challenge League next season and set up a play-out match against the third-placed side in the second-tier.

Gżira United are on pole to finish in third place as last week’s impressive 2-0 win over rivals Balzan has put them two points clear of Mosta, Hibernians, and the same Balzan, thus they will assure themselves of another run in the Conference League qualifiers with victory over Żebbuġ Rangers.

Prior to their win over Balzan, the Maroons have been passing through a very poor run of form but Abdilla will surely have been delighted with the character shown by his players to overturn their fortunes and will hope they can show the same determination to finish the job this evening.

However, the Maroons would do well not to approach this match with any form of complacency as they face a Żebbuġ team who will be desperate to pick up points from this match to try and leapfrog their rivals Santa Lucia and avoid a return the Challenge League after only one season.

Żebbuġ have been struggling for results lately. They lost their last five matches but more of a concern for coach Brian Spiteri is the fact that the team have conceded 14 goals in their last three matches and scored just one.

No doubt, they need to improve in all areas of the pitch if they are to upset their more-quoted opponents.

Żebbuġ will be without goalkeeper Jamie Azzopardi who must serve a one-match ban.

Balzan, Hibernians, Mosta and Santa Lucia will be interested spectators in this match.

At present, Balzan, Hibernians and Mosta are all tied on 43 points and will be ready to pounce on a possible Gżira United slip-up to secure third place.

Balzan have the toughest task of the three when they face neighbouring rivals Birkirkara, who have already assured themselves of a return to European football when sealing second spot in the Premier League standings.

Oliver Spiteri will surely demand a strong response from his Balzan players after their disappointing defeat against Gżira last week, and no doubt they will need to be at their best to overcome Birkirkara who have been one of the most in-form sides of division in the past weeks.

Hibernians head to the Gozo Stadium to face Floriana, in a match, the Paolites will be desperate to win to keep alive their hopes of representing Malta in Europe this summer.

However, the Paolites surely cannot afford to repeat their abject showing against Sirens last week, which saw them drop two priceless points.

Consistency has been Hibs’ major heel this season but given the decisive nature of today’s match, the Paolites cannot afford any drop of concentration if they are to finish the season in the best possible way.

Mosta, on their part, have a tricky fixture to complete their season when they face a Santa Lucia side who will be desperate for points in their bid to retain their Premier League status.

The Blues are in hot form and nothing less than three points will keep alive their hopes of a top-three finish.

On the other hand, Santa Lucia will be desperate to take something from this match in a bid to protect their current placing in the standings which would see them prolong their fight against relegation with a play-off against the third-placed team in the Challenge League.

Coach Enzo Potenza will have been pleased by the character shown by his players to grind out a point against newly-crowned champions Ħamrun Spartans but they will surely need to show the same fight if they are to upset a Mosta team who have defied the odds this season to put themselves in the hunt for a European berth.

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