Heart and a never-say-die attitude are the hallmarks of Gżira United’s stunning run in this season’s UEFA Conference League, according to coach Darren Abdilla.
The coach admitted that he is running out of superlatives to describe his team’s stunning qualification to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League on Wednesday.
Heading into the second leg in Luxembourg with a two-goal lead over Dudelange, the Maltese Premier League side tried to administer their advantage in the away tie.
With ten minutes to go, it looked as though Gżira United were set for a pristine qualification as they trailed Dudelange 1-0.
However, when Samir Hadji grabbed his second of the match with seven minutes to go it looked as though that Gżira United were set for extra-time as the Luxembourg side had pulled level on aggregate.
Here, fears grew in the Gżira clan that the second goal might have hit hard the team’s morale.
But the Maroons showed commendable spirit and found the all-important goal when Wilkson headed the ball home after a quick transition to win the tie 3-2 on aggregate.
“I don’t have words to explain how satisfied I am with the achievements of my team,” Abdilla told the Times of Malta.
“We may be limited in terms of the number of players we have at our disposal and our technical qualities but the team we are building here surprises me everyday from a tactical point of view.
“The attitude and the determination shown by the players is really huge. We were playing on a natural surface in tough weather conditions with constant rain and strong winds but we never backed down.”
Abdilla said that he was impressed by the fighting spirit shown by the team to turn the tie back in their favour after conceding a second goal late on.
“Dudelange came out very aggressively as they needed to turn the tie in their favour,” Abdilla said.
“We were unlucky to concede the first goal from a deflected shot from a free-kick. But the players stuck to their game plan and kept administering their advantage.
“When we thought that we were close to reaching our goal, Dudelange scored their second goal, and to be honest I thought that this setback might see the team collapse.
“But there was a strong reaction from the team who started to play some excellent football and with three minutes to go we managed to score a fine goal that put us back in front.
“We had to suffer a lot in stoppage time but we managed to hold on and at the final whistle it was inevitable that I was hit by a huge wave of emotion as I felt that we had done something extraordinary.”
This is the second successive season that Gżira United have reached the third qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League.
Last summer they were knocked out by Austrian SuperLiga side Wolfsberger while next week they await Slovakia’s Viktoria Plzen.
However, this year’s qualification takes far bigger significance than last season’s as Abdilla lost some eight first-team members in the summer and has been competing in Europe with only 14 first-team members in his squad.
“What we have achieved this year is beyond belief,” Abdilla said.
“The squad this year is significantly depleted from the one we had last season but the work done during the past two months by my coaching staff and the players has been nothing short of extraordinary.
“This achievement fills me with great pride as I have secured my seventh qualification in Europe, with a team that had five Maltese players in the starting XI and two of them born in 2004.
“Whoever, we face next is going to be a great challenge. Viktoria Plzen played in the Champions League while Kosovo’s Drita will be very tough if they manage to oust the Czech side.
“To reach the Play-off Round would be a dream for our club. But irrespective of what happens, for us, this tie will be another step towards our preparation for the BOV Premier League.”
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