Ħamrun Spartans and Gżira United are determined to restore some lost pride following damaging first-leg defeats last week when this evening they are likely to make their final appearance in this season’s UEFA Conference League.
The Spartans are in Hungary when they take on Ferencvaros (kick-off: 7pm), looking for a strong response after suffering a 6-1 defeat in the third qualifying round, first leg tie at the National Stadium last week.
Coach Luciano Zauri said that the Malta champions are aware that their hopes of qualification are next to zero but they are determined to show that they are a much better team than last week’s final scoreline showed.
“It’s clear that our qualification hopes have been compromised extensively by the result of the first leg,” the Italian told the Times of Malta.
“Losing 6-1 it doesn’t leave much hope to progress and we do have a lot of recriminations for having thrown the tie away in those opening 20 minutes of the second half where we conceded four goals.
“In the first half, despite going down 1-0, the performance of the team was very good and we had a clear penalty claim turned down by the referee. Football matches are decided by episodes and unfortunately, nothing went our way last week.
“One also has to remember that we are up against a team whose annual budget is €30-35 million, making this tie a one-sided affair. But we still have one match to play in Europe this season and we want to make sure that we play at our best.”
The Spartans face today’s match without three key players as defender Steve Borg, midfielder Roko Prsa and forward Uros Djuranovic are all ruled out with a one-match ban.
Asked what he expects from his players this evening Zauri said: “We need to be focused right from the word ‘go’. We lost our shape and concentration in the second half last week and we ended up throwing the match and that cannot happen.
“We can’t think of the first leg and just focus to do well. It’s still a prestigious European match and there is the name of Ħamrun Spartans at stake and we need to make sure we give a good account of ourselves.”
On the other hand, Gżira United play hosts to Czech Republic giants Viktoria Plzen at the National Stadium (kick-off: 7pm) and will be looking to bounce back from last week’s 4-0 defeat in the Czech Republic that all but ended the tie as a contest.
Coach Darren Abdilla, however, still wants to go out of the competition on a high and is urging his team to try and get a positive result.
“We knew when we were drawn against Viktoria Plzen, that it was going to be very tough for us as they are a far superior team over us, not just as a team but as a whole club structure,” Abdilla said.
“Last week, we tried hard to keep the tie open but it was very tough as they showed all their strength. But we are approaching this match with the same spirit as we want to go out of the competition with our heads held high.
“Our objective is to try and come away with a positive result, which is not going to be easy, but we will do everything we can to achieve it.
“But whatever happens, I still believe that we should be proud of our achievements. Given the limitations we had this summer in terms of squad members, nobody could bet that we could go this far in Europe.
“However, my players rose to the occasion and were determined to show that they were capable of emulating what the club did last year when they reached the third qualifying round and the same for us coaches.
“It has been another great European summer for our club, that has given us a lot of great memories and hopefully we can create more in the second leg on Thursday.”
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