Floriana and Naxxar Lions will go head-to-head in the plum fixture of the IZIBET FA Trophy Round of 32 matches as the Cup competition takes centre stage this weekend.
Santa Lucia have already become the first Premier League team to reach the FA Trophy last 16 when, on Thursday, they eased past Challenge League side Marsa 2-0, courtesy of goals from Alessio Piazza and Aleksa Mrdja, at the Centenary Stadium.
The Last 32 draw has featured just one all-Premier League clash between Premier League leaders Floriana and Naxxar Lions, who have been one of the revelation sides of the 2023-24 season, who meet in Saturday’s opening fixture at the Tony Bezzina Stadium (kick-off 2pm).
While on paper Mauro Camoranesi’s troops will start as firm favourites to reach the Last 16 of the competition, the Lions have already shown this season that they are capable of offering a stern challenge for their more-quoted opponents.
In fact, in their only league meeting of the season, Naxxar were the first team to take points away from Floriana in the league when they held them to a 1-1 draw at the Tony Bezzina Stadium last October.
Since that match, the Lions have grown in stature and managed to go on a run of results that saw them move clear of the relegation places, registering wins over the likes of Birkirkara, Balzan and Valletta among others.
Coach Camoranesi might be tempted to give some game time to a number of fringe players such as Mattias Veselji and Jan Busuttil who have spent little time on the pitch this season.
Meanwhile, Trophy-holders Birkirkara should find little difficulty in negotiating their first hurdle in the form of Challenge League side Attard.
The Stripes could be looking at making changes to their starting formation but will be unable to field their new signing Andrea Zammit as his registration papers were not filed in time at the MFA offices.
Ħamrun Spartans and Marsaxlokk also face a straightforward task as the Malta champions will be up against Lija Athletic while the Southerners, last season’s finalists, are up against Żejtun Corinthians.
The Spartans yesterday announced the signing of Spanish defender Christian Rutjens but the former Floriana centre-back is ineligible to play today.
Marsaxlokk have also brought in reinforcements this week with the additions of goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona and defender Karl Micallef, formerly of Gudja United, and it remains to be seen if they will be involved against the Corinthians.
Saturday’s programme features a fascinating fixture between Mosta, who are finding life difficult in the Premier League, and Challenge League promotion challengers Pieta Hotspurs.
Mosta are desperate for a morale-boosting win to lift the spirits at the club but could find the going tough against a Hotspurs team who are enjoying a solid season in the Challenge League.
Sunday’s schedule features three clashes between Maltese and Gozitan sides.
Hibernians should hold too much firepower to overcome Qala Saints at the Centenary Stadium.
At the Gozo Stadium, Nadur Youngsters, the GFA Division One leaders, will take on Sirens, while in the second match of the day Gudja United, who are going through a squad revolution, will be wary of a potential slip-up when they take on Xewkija Tigers.
Gudja coach Renzo Kerr Cumbo is likely to hand a debut to his three new signings defender Rodrigue Nanitelamo, midfielder Ernesto Gentile, and striker Ibrahim Salis.
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