Final: a 'boost for Maltese football'- Times of Malta Published on: 15-04-2010
Valletta were overjoyed on Tuesday night after claiming possession of the National League 100 Anniversary Cup with a 3-1 victory over sporting foes Floriana in a high-octane final.
The Citizens may have had the last laugh but it speaks volumes of Floriana's spirited showing that their hard-core fans stayed in the stadium to cheer their players after the final whistle.
The fiercest rivalry in Maltese football took centre-stage as the fans of Valletta, who turned up in their thousands, and Floriana willed their teams on but at the post-match news conference, there was no hint of the antagonism between the two clubs as Ton Caanen, the Valletta coach, and Zoran Popovic, his Floriana counterpart, reflected on a memorable final.
Both agreed that the showdown was a great advert for Maltese football with Caanen revealing that the crew of MUTV, the official television channel of Manchester United who are in Malta to produce a feature about Valletta and Jordi Cruyff, were surprised by the electric atmosphere at the stadium.
"When I came here last summer, no-one at Valletta believed that we could qualify for the second round of the Europa League but we did it," Caanen said.
"I have often said that Malta should adopt a 'small island, big thinking' philosophy in football. Many people here follow games from the English and Italian leagues but I believe they should show more respect for Maltese football because the clubs are working hard and the players put in a lot of effort, they play from the heart.
"This evening's game was a compliment for Maltese football. MUTV have asked if they can follow us everywhere and they were at the stadium today. Their cameramen have been to many football venues all over the world and one of them told me that he ranked the atmosphere in today's final in his top five.
"He was so impressed with the passion of the Valletta fans and I believe it's good that this is mentioned in the media because it's a boost for local football."
Popovic also spoke positively about the Maltese game.
"In my opinion, the standard of Maltese football is better than many think," the Floriana coach said. "This final made for a beautiful night for the local game."
With the Anniversary Cup secured, Caanen immediately switched focus to his side's challenge to overhaul Birkirkara in the race for the title. Valletta, who take on Hibs tomorrow, face an uphill battle as Birkirkara are four points clear but Caanen has not given up on Valletta's title bid.
"With regards to the league, we have to be realistic," Caanen said.
"We're four points behind but a draw for Birkirkara would hand us a lifeline.
"If the gap was seven points, the story would be different but it's not over yet. Birkirkara play Qormi next and we face Hibs.
"We both have some tough games left but as long as we're in contention, we will continue to fight."
In his assessment of Tuesday's final, Popovic pointed at Michael Mifsud, scorer of a hat-trick, as the player that epitomises the gulf in resources between Valletta and Floriana.
"I'm happy because I've seen progress from my team," the Floriana coach said.
"The Maltese speak a lot about Mifsud because Valletta spent a lot of money to sign him but good players like him are not expensive.
"Michael is repaying the money he's getting from Valletta with his performances and goals.
"Valletta have more quality than us. We need more chances than Valletta to score because we have less individual quality. We speak in the streets about the wages some players get but I honestly wish that we have more Michael Mifsuds in Maltese football.
"Going back to the game, in the first half we played really well. Unlike what many people had predicted before the match, we didn't start with a defensive mentality. I put in two strikers with Christian Caruana also given an attacking role.
"We missed some clear chances in the first half but I don't think we can have any complaints about the match and the result. The level of refereeing in the final was also good."
Article by Kevin Azzopardi - Photo Credits Copyright 2010 Times of Malta