Miller urges his players to rise to the challenge Published on: 17-07-2012

Valletta coach Mark Miller has issued a rallying cry to his players, urging them to rise to the challenge as they face Partizan Belgrade in today’s Champions League second qualifying round, first leg, at the Hibs Stadium (kick-off: 20.45).

The Malta champions found little difficulty in seeing off Andorra’s Lusitans in the previous round after a record-breaking 8-0 win at home was rounded up with a low-scoring away victory for a commanding 9-0 aggregate passage.

However, Miller is fully aware that Partizan Belgrade will be a completely different kettle of fish as the Serbia champions, winners of the national championship for the last five seasons, are blessed with some high-quality players and eyeing a place in the group stages of the competition.

Partizan are no new faces to the Maltese as this will be their second time here since the turn of the new century.

In fact, in summer of 2000, they were drawn against Sliema Wanderers in the initial stages of the UEFA Cup and after losing the first leg at Ta’ Qali 2-1 they went on to progress to the next round following a 4-1 win in Belgrade.

Miller had the opportunity to ‘spy’ on Partizan last week when he watched them come from two goals down to beat Sturm Graz 3-2 in a friendly in Austria.

“This will be a massive test for Valletta,” Miller told The Times yesterday.

“Lusitans are nowhere near Partizan so we know this will be a very difficult match for us.

“Most of our players are in the national team though and that’s a blessing as they know what it entails to play opponents of this quality.

“But we’re going to try and stay in the running to qualify ahead of the second leg in Serbia. It’s not going to be easy but if we stay focused and play to our strengths we can spring a surprise.”

Miller reckons the midfield sector to be Partizan’s strongest department.

“I was particularly impressed by Stefan Babovic,” Miller said.

“He is a Pirlo-type of player who controls the team’s tempo and his distribution is excellent. They also have two fast wingers, particularly Lazar Markovic.

“But like every team Partizan have their own weak points so it’s up to us to make the most of the chances that may come our way during the match.”

Miller’s only concern is the fitness of central defender Jonathan Caruana who is re-covering from a stomach virus but otherwise Valletta have a full squad available.

Newcomer Joao Gabriel Da Silva, a Brazilian midfielder, could be included in the Valletta squad provided his international release arrives in time.

Miller, meanwhile, has labelled today’s match as a final test for three other Brazillian players – Jhonnatthan, Jusselio and Ricardo – to prove their worth after a trial period.

“This will be the first time that Valletta will be really tested this summer,” Miller, who also labelled the speculation of a possible Frank Temile return to the team as just talk, said.

“This is an opportunity for our overseas players to show their true mettle. It is against this kind of opposition that they have to stand out and show they can make a difference.

“But, I want all my players to perform and give their 100 per cent against Partizan.

“The fans will again give us a hand so I’m confident the team can carry out the job.”

Source - Times of Malta