Preview Day 32: Valletta vs Balzan Published on: 02-05-2015
Balzan are buzzing after qualifying for Europe for the first time in the club’s history following a 3-1 victory over newly-crowned champions Hibernians last weekend.
Their ascent to the upper echelons of the BOV Premier League has been one of the highlights of the season but Balzan are not expected to sit on their laurels.
Likewise, Valletta have attained their mundane target of securing a Europa League spot after failing to stay in touch with Hibernians in the title race but the Citizens are unlikely to take Balzan lightly, what with the FA Trophy semi-finals around the corner.
In this context, this evening’s clash between Valletta and Balzan at the National Stadium (7pm) has the potential to evolve into a pulsating affair.
Valletta coach Ivan Zammit summed up his mindset by warning that a negative result against Balzan could undermine the feelgood factor among his squad.
“My aim is to keep the team’s morale as high as possible,” Zammit told Times of Malta.
“This means that we can’t afford to lose against Balzan and I won’t accept a half-hearted effort from my players.
“If you lose a game, people start talking badly about the team and I don’t want that.
“All the work we’re putting in during training will be wasted if we don’t win.”
The last time they met Balzan, Valletta still harboured hopes of rekindling their title challenge but a 2-1 defeat effectively ended their hopes, sparking a sharp reaction from club president Victor Sciriha who threatened to quit at the end of the season.
No doubt, Valletta will be keen to erase the memories of that upset but Zammit batted away suggestions that he is after revenge.
“In the first round, we were superior to Balzan and won the game,” Zammit said.
“In the match we lost to Balzan, we were well below our best and they still found it hard to beat us, let alone if we play to our strengths.”
Although Zammit is clearly determined to lead Valletta to victory, he had warm praise for his former club’s European achievement.
“I’m not surprised,” Zammit said of Balzan’s qualification for next season’s Europa League.
“They have a big budget and if you can spend money on quality players, the team will improve. I know what Anton Tagliaferro’s ambitions are. We were in regular contact when I was coach of Balzan.
“They have invested in their squad, signing one of the best strikers in the Premier League in Bojan Kaljevic.
“They have made history and that’s a nice thing for Balzan. They deserve it because they have worked hard to reach their target.”
Zammit is hopeful of having a full squad at his disposal today.
Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri is understandably delighted about his team’s top-four feat but he believes that the prestige of playing Valletta and Birkirkara in their final two games will ensure that his players don’t lose focus.
“We have reached out target with two games to spare,” Spiteri said.
“A top-four finish has been our aim since the first weeks of the season.
“More than for classification purposes, our last two matches have added value because we are playing Valletta and Birkirkara.
“These are prestigious fixtures and I’m sure every player wants to be involved.”
It’s a measure of Balzan’s progress this season that they are in contention to finish third as they trail Birkirkara, who meet Hibs tomorrow, by three points.
Spiteri needs no reminding that the festive mood in the Balzan clan can alienate the players but he’s not unduly concerned.
“It’s only natural that you relax a bit once you have achieved your objective, it happens to the top teams,” he noted.
“Let’s face it, our league campaign has not been easy as we have been under constant pressure, always looking at the teams above us and those below.
“That said, I’m convinced that the team is on a good run, winning six games in a row. Together with Hibs, we have the best record in the third round with seven wins, one draw and one defeat, and I’m sure the players want to keep the rhythm going.”
Kaljevic is expected to miss Balzan’s last two league games after suffering a hairline fracture in his foot while Colombian winger Oscar Guerrero is sidelined with a pulled hamstring.
Italian forward Gianmarco Piccioni is doubtful.
Although Valletta played second fiddle to Hibs this season, Spiteri is still a big admirer of the capital club.
“Valletta are a team I admire a lot,” Spiteri said. “They received a lot of criticism this season after falling well behind Hibs in the standings but they have also been consistent, winning a series of games.
“They are on a high after beating Birkirkara.
“Ivan Zammit and Gilbert Agius know the game very well.
“It will not be an easy match for us but we will also try to make it difficult for them.
“I hope that our combined efforts will entertain the fans of the two clubs as well as neutral followers.”
Source - Times of Malta